Bay Area Wonders Anthology: In Praise of Kelp, Banana Slugs, and Other Astonishments

Page 1

Bay Area Wonders

In Praise of Kelp, Banana Slugs, and Other Astonishments


3 Bay Area Wonders THE 2023 FIFTH GRADE CLASS The Nueva School Hillsborough Campus 6565 Skyline Blvd. Hillsborough, CA 94010 650-350-4600 © 2023, Text by the 2023 Fifth Grade Students at The Nueva School. Published 2023 by The Nueva School. Cover and illustrations by the 2023 Fifth Grade Students. Photos by Cristina Veresan. Design by Kylie Elenz-Martin, Lucia van Gool, and Mia Turakhia. In Praise of Kelp, Banana Slugs, and Other Astonishments


Acorn Woodpecker BY ISHAAN I.

Allen’s Hummingbird BY AUDREY N.

Anna’s Hummingbird BY ANAYA K.


Bobcat BY FELIX L.

Brush Rabbit BY EREN U.

Bullwhip Kelp BY MADDIE B.

Burrowing Owl BY KATHERINE S.

California Ground Squirrel BY CADEN C.

California Halibut BY RACHEL L.

California Poppy BY VIVIENNE J.

California Red-Legged Frog BY COLTON P.

California Sagebrush BY SOFIA G-O.

California Scrub Jay BY SAHAN N.

California Sea Lion BY OWEN W.

California Slender Salamander BY OLATAIYE S.

California Tiger Salamander BY JACK S.

California Vole BY NEELA C.

Coast Live Oak BY NEEL S.

Coast Redwood BY MAREN L.


Douglas Iris BY AUDREY C.

Dungeness Crab BY ILIYA S.

Garibaldi BY ZAINAB A.

Ghost Shrimp BY MARIUS C.

Giant Green Anemone BY DAVIS Z.

Giant Kelp BY ELLERY K.

Giant Pacific Octopus BY MASON S.

Gray Whale BY THEO M.

Great Blue Heron BY MAYA K.


Great Horned Owl BY KATE S-J.

Great White Shark BY CASEY S.

Harbor Seal BY EMILY M.

Hopkin’s Rose Nudibranch BY RYDER L.

Ithuriel’s Spear BY SOPHIA L.

Leopard Shark BY AVI G.

Little Brown Bat BY MAYA L.

Long-Tailed Weasel BY CHLOE S.

Mission Blue Butterfly BY FEIYAN J.

Mountain Lion BY MATTHEW J.

Mule Deer BY ELBERT P.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake BY SHAAYER A.

Ochre Sea Star BY SYLVIE Z.

Olympic Oyster BY KILA V.

Pacific Banana Slug BY KAI D.

Pipevine Swallowtail BY SIENA F.

Purple Sea Urchin BY IRA S.

Pygmy Blue Butterfly BY ARYA L.

Red-winged Blackbird BY GRIFFIN C.

Rough-skinned Newt BY ANDRE Q.

San Francisco Garter Snake BY ISHAN S.

Snowy Plover BY KAYA L.

Southern Sea Otter BY ANNABELLE L.

Splendid Iridescent Seaweed BY JT L.

Stickey Monkey Flower BY NICO M.

Western Blue-eyed Grass BY ZOE L.

Western Bluebird BY NIKHIL G.

Western Fence Lizard BY HANSON F.

Western Screech Owl BY HILARIE Q.

White-breasted Nuthatch BY AMRUTH S.


We invite you to marvel at the species with which we share our world and the transformative connections we make with them.

The topography and coastal climate make the Bay Area a biodiversity hotspot, teeming with a rich variety of plant communities and wildlife, but it also means that the ecosystems are under threat. Despite widespread commercial development and other human impacts, our region is home to hundreds of native plant species and a dazzling array of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Many species are endemic—found nowhere else in the world—and some have been classified as rare and endangered. It is important to us that 5th grade students develop an amazed curiosity and deep appreciation for this biodiversity.

The initial inspiration for Bay Area Wonders came from Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s World Of Wonders, a collection of natural history essays that explore her connections—both real and metaphorical—to different species from around the world. Each essay is devoted to a unique species, and they are all beautifully illustrated by Fumi Nakamura.

Bay Area Wonders is an interdisciplinary collaboration between science, art, and writing, focused on Bay Area species. For this project, students select a subject from a curated list of native plants and animals for their own “wonder essay.” We encouraged them to choose a species with which they felt connected; some students had observed a species firsthand, while others may have only related to an aspect of the species’ physical characteristics or behavior.

In science class, students investigated ecology concepts, while in writing class they read and analyzed essays from World of Wonders. In both classes, using Nezhukumatathil’s essays as a model, students researched and wrote their own essays about their selected species—integrating personal experiences, figurative language, and natural history information. In art class, students worked with photographic images to create scientific illustrations of their species using colored pencils. They combined contour drawings with detailed shaded drawings to show volume and dimensionality.

In this anthology, Bay Area Wonders: In Praise of Kelp, Banana Slugs, and Other Astonishments, you’ll find all of the 5th grade illustrated essays. This volume represents a lot of hard work in science, writing, and art classes. We invite you to marvel at the species with which we share our world and the transformative connections we make with them.

The acorn woodpecker is a very interesting creature. It has lots of different personality traits, and it needs all of them to stay alive.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

“The acorn woodpecker and I both wish we had claws.” If we did, we could defend ourselves better. Armor would be good too, and a shield. That way, nobody could touch us. The woodpecker would defend itself from wild cats, foxes, snakes, rats, and predatory birds, and I would defend myself from mean people. The acorn woodpecker moves its head around a lot. I think it does this to check if any predators are around.The acorn woodpecker’s defense is to fly away, as its beak is not a weapon. Sometimes people say stuff, but we just ignore it.

If it didn’t do that, predators could sneak up and eat them at will, so it’s good that they do it (for the woodpecker, anyways). Acorn woodpeckers eat fruits, seeds, some eggs, and nuts. Acorn Woodpeckers also consume a large number of flying ants. Today some nut and fruit farmers consider Acorn Woodpeckers pests for eating their crops.

Although these birds have been known to cause damage to man-made objects like fence posts, utility poles, buildings, and even car radiators, their beaks are kind of small. Although group members in good climates do not usually forage together, they do share in gathering and storing acorns for future use in a tree known as a “granary.” All members of the group work collectively to maintain and defend this food resource. Some Acorn Woodpeckers do not use a granary tree, but rather store acorns in natural holes and cracks. Acorn woodpeckers are dependent on a ready source of acorns and make their homes in pine-oak woodlands but will reside in hardwood forests as long as oak trees are available. Acorn Woodpeckers have a complex social structure, forming small groups of 12 or more birds. Imagine living with twelve people at all times! You would have to be really patient.

Acorn woodpeckers live, nest, and raise young communally. They communicate with each other using a scratchy waka-waka call. The nest consists of a cavity in a tree which is excavated by all members of the group and typically 12 to 30 feet above the ground. The nest is lined with wood chips. There are usually 3 to 7 eggs in a bunch that hatch in 11 to 14 days. Breeding females often lay their eggs in a shared nest. Non-breeding members of the group help raise the young, including taking turns incubating the eggs. The young leave the nest after about a month, although babies return to the nest to roost and feed. There are usually one or two broods each year. The acorn woodpecker is a rabbit, breeding all the time.

The acorn woodpecker is a very interesting creature. It has lots of different personality traits, and it needs all of them to stay alive. It has lots of patience, as it lives with a lot more birds than humans. The acorn woodpecker is like a jackhammer. It must be patient to drill trees, as it can take some time. I think the acorn woodpecker is perfectly outfitted to survive in its natural environment, as it has plenty of what it needs to survive.


Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)

You are standing in a small patch of forest right by the coast. You can smell the sea and hear waves crashing. Something shiny and coppery flits by. It is an Allen’s hummingbird. It glides through the sky as a fish glides through water. Allen’s hummingbirds are very colorful. Females and immature Allen’s hummingbirds have bronze-green backs with lighter, more rust-covered sides. They both have bits of bronze spots on their throats, though females have a small patch of reddish orange in the center of the throat and more coppery spots than males. The males also have reddish-orange throats and a red underside. Their bright colors cause them to shine like sparkling gems.

As a five-year-old, I loved playing in my backyard looking for butterflies, dragonflies, and hummingbirds. I would go looking for them day after day. Their beauty and fragility always amazed me. The momentary shimmer, the few precious glimpses, the quiet flutter of wings, the vibrant color. It always fascinated me, watching the hummingbird hover. It flutters there like it’s floating. One cool thing is that Allen’s hummingbirds can fly backward unlike most birds. Another is its beak. The Allen’s hummingbird has a long beak used to eat insects by catching them midair or while they rest. They eat spiders and drink nectar from bush monkeyflower, Indian paintbrush, columbine, currant, and more. Allen’s hummingbirds need to have a lot of energy, which is why they need so much nectar. It would be equivalent to us eating about four hundred pounds of potatoes and a thousand quarter-pound hamburgers every day!

We have talked about prey, but we haven’t talked about predators. Allen’s hummingbirds have lots of predators like praying mantis, cats, frogs, hawks, and other raptors. Spiders are also predators of Allen’s hummingbirds. So it’s a risky gamble for Allen’s hummingbirds to eat spiders because spiders can eat them.

Ever since I was little, I always loved walking among the redwood trees. I loved looking at the trees and plants. I used to go on a trail in a national park and walk around for hours. I have always loved nature because it seemed clean and pure. It was like a place to escape from our world. An escape from pollution and corruption.

Allen’s hummingbirds breed in coastal forests, shrubs, and chaparral which are thorny bushes. They breed on a small strip of land about 1,000 ft above the ocean. This strip of land stretches up the coast from California to Southern Oregon. Males have territories on the open part of the land, whereas females have territories that are covered with trees, such as eucalyptus, redwood, and Douglas fir. Female hummingbirds’ territory includes forest with oak, pine, and shrub-filled clearings with lots of flowers.

Allen’s hummingbirds are very territorial. If an unknown hummingbird comes along and drinks nectar from the hummingbird’s flowers the hummingbird will chase it off. The males are especially territorial in areas with shrubs that have a prominent perch above. They will perform their courtship displays there. The complicated dancing along with flight is to entice females and to threaten other species.

They have two main displays: a side-to-side shuttle and a pendulum. In the shuttle, they fly short distances side to side with their gorget or hummingbird throat feathers flared out while trilling their wings. In the pendulum display, males zip back and forth in wide arcs producing a bumblebee-like sound. After the pendulum display, males fly up to 100 feet into the air. They dive toward the female, emitting a sharp trill with their tail, then pulling out of the dive. After the dive, they swoop back into the pendulum display followed by another dive. After mating with


multiple females, the male leaves and takes no part in the parenting. They nest in trees and shrubs 2-50 ft off the ground and they nest by streams. They like to build their nests in black bracken fern, eucalyptus, cypress, or Douglas fir. The outer layer of their nest is made of grass and leaves. The inside of the nest is made of spider webs, leaves from willows, and flowers. They also use bark, moss, and pine needles. It takes a week or two to build their nests, which are about 1 ¼ inches in diameter.

Allen hummingbirds lay 1-3 white eggs, from 0.5 - 0.6 in length by 0.3 - 0.4 in width. The eggs incubate for about 17-22 days before hatching. The chicks are helpless when they are born. They have dark skin with some white on their backs. They will stay in the nest for a little less than a month before leaving, and during their time in the nest, the female will feed the chicks.

Some fun facts about Allen’s hummingbirds are: the feet of the hummingbird are very important. To stay warm while flying in cold weather, they tuck their feet in to preserve heat, but in hot weather, they let their feet hang to let out the heat. Another fact is Allen’s hummingbirds migrate to Mexico and they migrate earlier than most birds. Surprisingly, little is known about how long they live, but the oldest Allen’s hummingbird recorded was a female that lived 5 years and 11 months. The Allen hummingbird’s global breeding population is 1.5 million. They are rated 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, 20 being the worst. Allen’s Hummingbirds on the Yellow Watch List for birds that are most at risk of extinction. Hopefully with help these beautiful hummingbirds will make a recovery.

This teaches us we should be mindful of our environment and our impact. Because of us, this species of hummingbird might go extinct, along with many other creatures. We need to be more aware of our impact on the earth. We are driving so many living things to extinction. Gone forever, only to be seen on display.

When I see the flowers in my yard, bright bold colors remind me of hummingbirds. The greens, reds, oranges, pinks, and more. Like beautiful jewels. If I get very lucky, I might even see a hummingbird flit around my yard. It saddens me that they might disappear and I might never see them again.


Hummingbirds wings move really fast, and this reminds me of horses. Horses can run super fast, and they also get scared really easily like hummingbirds. The funny thing is horses get scared of birds, and birds get scared of horses.


Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Skipping and running, a little 6 year old, going past all the different beds and smelling the earthy smell of soil. That’s me, a little girl who barely speaks. In the garden watering the plants, and feeding the chickens. That’s when I spotted the pink neck of the hummingbird. It was so pretty and tiny! I stared at it in awe, and then I realized that the water was spilling and quickly picked it up. I slowly walked to tell everyone so they could be quiet, trying not to scare it away. I was so excited to see it. It was so colorful, and I was fascinated by how fast their wings move. It looked almost fake. When it flew away, I was kind of sad, but I knew it had to go, and that’s okay. I felt so good and happy when I saw it. It made my day. Seeing animals makes me calm and happy, especially when I get to spend lots of time with them.

When I was younger, I never really spoke to anyone or was very social. Just like hummingbirds! They also eat spiders, which is definitely not like me. Whenever I think about spiders and them crawling, I freak out. I also think it is crazy how Hummingbirds eat things that are like half their size. Like imagine eating a 2-footlong pizza for one meal. Also, they are very small and only weigh the same as 2 pennies. So that makes that even crazier. They seem small, but when you think about two pennies, that’s really small!

They are so colorful, with their bright pink necks and grayish green bodies, which makes them easy to spot. This can be good and bad because of predators that can find them easier than other animals.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are not endangered, but there are some threats that they have that are making it harder for them. Some examples are habitat loss that connects to deforestation, humans, and other animals destroying their habitat. Another threat is feral cats, which are basically stray cats that kill the hummingbirds. This relates to animal shelters because if they don’t take in these cats, then the hummingbirds get less populated. The final threat is related to all birds which are window collisions. There isn’t really much we can do about this, but it still is hard for them.

Hummingbirds’ wings move really fast, and this reminds me of horses. Horses can run super fast, and they also get scared really easily like hummingbirds. The funny thing is horses get scared of birds, and birds get scared of horses. Although it might seem crazy to relate horses and hummingbirds because of the size difference, they are both really pretty and stand out. Horses stand out because they are huge, and hummingbirds with their bright pink necks.

They remind me of soccer because you go really fast and once you see someone come towards you, you change directions. Although in soccer it is for a different reason there is still the change of directions. Hummingbirds move from place to place for food and in soccer you move to score a goal.

I will always remember that day in first grade walking through the garden. When the hummingbird came, the plants started dancing like it was a movie. I was so proud and happy. Everyone in the garden got silent, and we all stared at the hummingbird. It was like the whole world went silent. Like there was a spotlight on the hummingbird. It was so small and probably overwhelmed too. It probably felt like there were 100 eyes on it and it didn’t know why. Imagine you’re just going about your day and 30 people start staring at you and taking pictures. That’s how a lot of animals feel. I think it is a little unfair to constantly be taking pictures of animals and disturbing them. I will always remember seeing the hummingbird and how much pride and joy I felt.


Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)

“THERE’S A MANTARAY!” my dad yelled. I was laying down on a bench in a small boat, so I rushed over to the side of the boat and saw a huge manta ray. It was so pretty, flapping its bird-like wings as it gracefully floated in the water. There were a bunch of other kinds of fish around it, like Clown Fish, Golden Damselfish, Masked Butterflyfish, and Yellowfin goatfish.

Later that year, I started learning about animals in Monterey Bay. We had to choose a species from Monterey Bay to study, and I chose bat rays. That is when I became interested in rays. I thought of all the different kinds of rays that relate to bat rays, like manta rays and stingrays. Although, I learned those are not all of the different species. There are actually over 630 species of rays!! Crazy, right!!

I have swam with a few bat rays when I was little. I do not remember it, but my mom told me I was not afraid. However, if I saw a bat ray now, I would for sure swim as far away as I could, now that I know that bat rays have 1-3 venomous spines in their back.

Bat rays have a few interesting characteristics. First of all, the males are smaller than the females, which is interesting because in most species, the males are bigger than the females. The average male wingspan is 3 feet, and the average weight is 37 pounds, while the average female wingspan is 5.9 feet, and average weight is 200 pounds. When bat rays are born, their wingspan is about 11.4 inches. Second, they have the cutest faces in the world, like a smiling puppy but without the soft fur. If you have ever seen a bat ray, you would agree that they are cute. Third, they come in multiple different colors. For example, blue with spots, gray and white, and/or blue and gray. Fourth, their seasonal habitat is shallow inshore waters from Oregon to the Gulf of California. They are found in both muddy and sandy sloughs like a pig, but underwater. Fifth, Bat rays are popular in public aquariums because they are relatively easy to care for in captivity. Lastly, the bat ray reproduces annually, mating during spring or summer. A female bat ray is “ovoviviparous”, which means her eggs develop and hatch inside her body. Then at a gestation (the process or period of development inside the womb between conception and birth) of nine to 12 months, she gives live birth to two to ten pups. The number depends on the size of the mother.

Bat rays have so many different colors and shapes, but they all share a few things in common. For example, they eat crustaceans (crab, lobster, shrimp, or barnacles) and small fish on the seabed, just like elephant seals or walruses do. They get their food by using their winglike pectoral fins to move sand and expose prey animals. Also, a bat ray’s wingspan can get to 1.8 meters (5’11”), which is taller than the average height for men (5’ 9”).

This species can teach you that even if something looks appealing to you, you shouldn’t always go to it. Now I know that if I ever see a bat ray, I will swim away as cautiously I can, even though bat rays have the cutest faces ever.


I thought of all the different kinds of rays that relate to bat rays, like manta rays and stingrays. Although, I learned those are not all of the different species. There are actually over 630 species of rays!! Crazy, right!!


Even though their conservation status is of least concern, they are endangered by human activities that impact their habitat. Due to large areas of their former range turning into an urban environment, they have had to rapidly adapt to the towns and cities that they are living in.


Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

When I was four years old in my old house, I was looking down from the porch and saw a bobcat. Its graybrown fur glinted in the sun as my eyes traced it. My hands held onto the rough wood fence. My dad came and saw the bobcat too, just as it leaped off into the tall grass. The grass shook and danced as it fled. I wondered what it would be like to be a bobcat, stalking through the grass trying to find prey. I wondered what was going on in their minds as they did their daily routines in the urban environment. I wished it would come back so we could see its soft-looking fur again. Little did I know, there would be many more opportunities to come.

Bobcats are a versatile species, meaning they are able to adapt to different environments such as forests, scrublands, and swamps. Their range is mostly in the United states, but they are also scattered throughout Mexico and southern Canada. This large range supports many types of prey, ranging from rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals to lizards and snakes, and even domesticated animals such as chickens and sheep. To catch this abundance of prey, the bobcat uses multiple strategies to catch them. They mainly use their eyesight, hearing, and smell to locate prey. They then slowly stalk them, placing their back paws in the same place their front paws have stepped in, until they are close enough to pounce on and eat. If they encounter an aerial target, such as small, low-flying birds, they will leap up and try to catch them in the air. However, at some times of the year, prey is more scarce, and bobcats may travel up to seven miles in search of food. All the food they catch will feed them and their kittens, who were born in late fall to mid winter. The kits are born in litters of two to four. Raised in their well protected den, the kits will hopefully survive the environment and grow to become the next generation of bobcats.

Bobcats are able to be active at all times of the day and all times of the night, just like an overworked person. However, they are most active at dawn and dusk. If at this time they meet other bobcats, they will usually use physical expressions in close situations, and they also mark their territory with urine and feces. This can also be used to tell if a bobcat wants to mate, or if a den is occupied. A few fun facts are: bobcats can run up to thirty miles per hour, and can kill prey as large as themselves.

Even though their conservation status is of least concern, they are endangered by human activities that impact their habitat. Due to large areas of their former range turning into an urban environment, they have had to rapidly adapt to the towns and cities that they are living in. Bobcats mostly live in low to medium density occupied areas in the cities, with at most five houses every 2 ½ acres. However, the environment brings new dangers to their lives. To raise their kits, female bobcats hide them in places of low human interest, such as in shrubs or under decks.

In conclusion, I think that bobcats might need additional help as much of their natural territory is being made into urban areas which are harder for them to live in. They are an amazing species, and I hope they keep doing well in the future.


Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)

That summer to autumn, my family had gotten a cute cottontail bunny from my sister’s daycare school, which had asked for a family to volunteer to take care of the bunny for two weeks. Well, we volunteered because my sister loves animals, and it was her first time having a pet at home. Although it was pretty easy to find everything like the food and water, get the bunny, put it in a cage, and carry everything in the car, you can imagine how hard it was taking care of a bunny with a three-year-old sister in the house that doesn’t know how to behave with animals! After bringing it home, we set everything up and let the rabbit go in its play cage. Oh my, during the bunny’s stay, we really learned that my sister isn’t capable of taking care of animals, because she almost made the bunny eat tape and string. She would put her little chair on the bunny, trapping it, and trying to pet it and hold it, and she thought the bunny would play with her. When brush rabbits see a threat, they use runways, tunnels, and burrows for quick escapes from predators and other dangers. They also use them for getting around quickly. They’re as big as 2 size 4 soccer balls, although they run so fast! I Had wished that the bunny was in its tunnels, escaping from my sister. It wasn’t a surprise we were happy to give the bunny back since my sister almost sent the bunny to heaven!

When we first brought the cottontail rabbit home, it was in its playcage and it was shivering because it wasn’t used to us at all yet. It slowly got used to its playcage that we put in the garage, which we turned into a playroom, and eventually it built trust with us. In the beginning, it was so shy, it would not even eat the food we put out for it. But as I observed, the bunny slowly got used to us in time. We made it a cardboard box with an entrance so it could go in, and in the beginning, it would just go in there, and only come out when it was hungry and thirsty. After that, it pretty much got used to us, coming out of the cardboard box, and that is how my sister forced her into things. Of course, the bunny did not go away because it had trust. My sister eventually got scratched, which I can believe, even though the bunny is actually very calm and very human friendly. You can guess what my sister did, breaking the rabbit’s trust a little bit.

The cottontail rabbit we had at home was a pet, not a wild rabbit. The brush rabbit’s natural environment actually are areas with dense, brushy cover. They also make their home in extremely dense brush, and they rarely leave their brush, which is their home. All rabbits, including the brush rabbit, have nutrient-filled urine and feces to keep the soil full of nutrients. The rabbit we had actually pooped a lot, so the whole play cage was full of it. Even though the smell isn’t appetizing, the poop is also a great fertilizer. Brush rabbits actually don’t hibernate in winter, so they are an important source of food during this time. For example, if a fox is hungry they can find a rabbit and hunt it down for their survival. This is a crucial part of the food chain. These rabbits are also helpful for the food chain because they eat varieties of plants so the plants don’t overgrow, though they prefer green clover when available. Surprisingly, within the species Sylvilagusbachmani, there are 13 known subspecies. The bunny we got was a cottontail not a brush rabbit. A brush rabbit and cottontail are different species, but the same subspecies.

The guests that came petted the rabbit, and the kids even got distracted by the bunny’s cuteness when we were playing games like hide and seek with them. One kid actually got the bunny and carried it around until it was time for them to go, because he said that the bunny needed to be out of its playcage to exercise itself. After they left, I told my parents what he had said, but they said that even though he was correct, they couldn’t let the bunny out because it would poop all over the place, though that would be good fertilizer!

You sometimes might think that the brush rabbit is the cutest pet, so cute that it could even make a tree smile. That you could snuggle and play with its soft furry body with your sister or brother all the time, well


Think about it for a moment, wouldn’t it be nice to see the cute long-eared rabbits living in their natural habitats, in great numbers, and perhaps most animals living like that–thriving, eating, drinking, and in their own way, helping our beautiful planet.

you should think again. This is– because they actually have a much bigger role than just being a pet and they contribute to the environment in such an amazing way that you couldn’t ever imagine. They prevent plants from overgrowing, make sure other animals don’t starve by being a good food source all year, and their feces are great fertilizer for your little veggie garden. This beautiful cycle will only continue if we don’t put their lives in danger by wildfires and loss of habitats. People reflecting on this should raise their voice and awareness and contribute to their community in their own way. Think about it for a moment, wouldn’t it be nice to see the cute long-eared rabbits living in their natural habitats, with great numbers, and perhaps most animals like that, thriving, eating, drinking, and helping in their own way for our beautiful planet.


underwater. Or a home to tons of creatures. And it just happened to swim to the shore.


Bullwhip Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana)

Every time my family went to the beach, we always passed big piles of seaweed, and I always thought, “Ew, that smells bad.” I didn’t know that it was such a cool thing until now. Bull kelp may look gross or slimy, but it can make a good flag on the sandcastle you’re making. It’s also good nutrition for other beach animals like gulls and flies. But you might say, “I can’t touch that,” but maybe you could remember that it used to be part of a giant kelp forest, home to tons of animals and kelp swaying with the ocean’s currents. The stalks are called stripes, and the bulbs are called the bladder. Bull kelp is smooth on the stripes but more rough on the bladder, like different sides of sandpaper. Bull kelp grows and thrives in rough-and-tumble coastal waters.

Sea urchins, sea otters, and kelp are all tied together because sea otters control the urchin population, so they don’t uproot the kelp too much. If that happened, then all the creatures in the kelp forest would not have a home and would be left with the job of trying to find a new home. Bull kelp ranges from the Aleutian Islands south to California. Giant kelp is their closest relative, being the second most canopy layer kelp. Bull kelp dies in the winter and only produces one stripe and several blades in its lifespan. However, the blades are reproductive, and the plant itself will produce trillions of zoospores for propagation in the future. An adult bull kelp can produce three trillion spores. In winter storms, seaweed normally gets washed up by the strong current. The entire organism grows anew each season.

It can also grow really tall, at a rate of 10 inches per day and up to 115 feet. The blades can be 30 to 64 feet long and float on the surface like a golden canopy over the ocean, and they grow to get more sun as food. When they are there, they stop, like a stretchable cord charging a computer. Even though it’s rigid, it’s also really flexible like a wet sponge cleaning a window. But the blades are home to many ocean animals, and it’s kind of like they use them like we would use a treehouse, some people might stay at the bottom while others try to get to the tippy top, and others might just want to be in the middle.

Maybe next time we go to the beach I will find the kelp and think it’s more natural and beautiful and share that with my family and friends so they see it like I do. Like a beautiful thing that has just been transformed into something that you don’t like but has done big things. Like a giant forest underwater. Or a home to tons of creatures. And it just happened to swim to the shore.


Burrowing Owl (Athene cuniculariaa)

I laid down on the ground, near the hole where I knew my favorite animal buddy would peek out. I saw the tiny fluffy tuft of brown feathers peaking out, followed by bright yellow eyes, and a razor sharp beak. It was one of those rare occasions where a burrowing owl would pop out, just to say hi to me. They would hoot in their homes, their burrows. They would take old prairie dog holes, or sometimes these owls would build one themselves. Here in America, we call these creatures burrowing owls. Some other names for them are mochuelo de madriguera in Spain, and chevêche des terriers in France.

These small, sandy-colored owls are mainly active during the day and dusk, unlike most owls. They mostly hunt during that time period in order to catch insects and rodents. But, some do feed on small mammals for much of the year like voles, mice, and ground squirrels. In Florida, some even eat frogs, toads, lizards, and snakes. Luckily, these incredible owls are of low concern on the extinction scale. That means that they’re not likely to be threatened in the near future. But we should still be careful when near these animals, just like we would do if they were high risk. If you can’t see them, there’s a reason. They are amazingly small and extremely well camouflaged. Both of those attributes make it easier to survive in such a brutal environment. They have been rare in many areas owing to loss of habitat. So even if you think an animal is safe from extinction, think again. There is always some way to hurt the species, even if it’s by accident. Some good aspects about them is the fact that they have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than most other birds, and that helps the planet, because if they’re breathing in more carbon dioxide, it means that less of that is circulating in the atmosphere. So those little pom-poms are good for our environment and us! The reality is this: we are hurting them. We are destroying their habitats, and without that, they’re goners.

They remind me of a calico rock, with the mixed browns and whites. Also like a pom-pom, so fluffy and soft. Their striking yellow eyes, the color of dandelions. Their beaks, razor sharp like a knife. When all of those blend together, you get the burrowing owl. Fluffy heads bobbing in and out of their holes, in and out, in and out. Like a whack a mole. In the dry grass around them, their burrow is a gaping hole. If you look down, You can see their brown feathers. Bobbing in and out, in and out. If I were an owl, I would hide away in my little hole.

I look out the window sadly, remembering all my little buddies. They were still bobbing up and down, hooting sadly. The car slowly drove past, leaving all of those memories behind. I waved, and they hooted at me. I would miss them. When I finally came back, 9 years later, they wouldn’t recognize me.


I saw the tiny fluffy tuft of brown feathers peaking out, followed by bright yellow eyes, and a razor sharp beak. It was one of those rare occasions where a burrowing owl would pop out, just to say hi to me.


California Ground Squirrel

(Otospermophilus beecheyi)

I remember the first time I tried to plant something. It was a tomato plant. The plant grew well, but the tomatoes would be about ready to pick, and then they would be gone. It was funny that my family was the one who grew the plant, but the ground squirrels took it. A lot of people don’t enjoy the ground squirrels’ harvesting, but in fact it is actually a very beautiful thing. The ground squirrels have to live on their own, and all they’re doing is just trying to be resourceful and survive. If we hadn’t been here, it would have been the ground squirrels’ territory, and they’d have at least some claim and right to what should have been their land and their food.

Speaking of ground squirrels territory, ground squirrels usually dig burrows underground to shelter themselves. They’re burrows are not very nice, but they are comfy and compact, which is the important thing. They live in their burrows for three seasons, only coming out in the spring to collect food and mate. When ground squirrels mate, the males leave the females to collect food, while the females stay and nurse the babies. The males end up going to the burrow before the females. Next season, the male and female completely forget about each other and repeat the process with another ground squirrel.

A ground squirrel is about 18 inches long with mottled fur colored gray, light and dark brown, and white, like a dirty rug. They usually have a darker mantle, a collar almost. The shoulders, neck, and sides of the ground squirrel is a light gray, like a fleece. They can be easily recognized for the white rings around their eyes. If you touch them they’ll feel very soft, but of course you can’t. They run away most times they see you. It’s their defense mechanism.

Ground squirrels diet consists mostly of fruits, nuts and plants. One of the nuts that they eat that most people know is acorns. The predators of ground squirrels include rattlesnakes, small animals like weasels and ferrets, red tailed hawks, golden eagles, american badgers, wildcats, coyotes, and dogs. Because of this, ground squirrels’ lifespan is usually from three to four years, but up to six. Despite this and much more, ground squirrels are not endangered, and in fact, they are thriving and there are a lot of them around California, West Nevada, and West Oregon.

Another reason that it’s surprising that ground squirrels are thriving is because humans have developed a lot of pesticides and pest control chemicals to scare away the ground squirrels from their plants. These pesticides and chemicals are potentially life-threatening and very dangerous to ground squirrels, so it’s fascinating that the squirrels still can thrive. Of course, because of the mating and reproduction process of the squirrels, it’s not really a giant surprise that there are a lot of them. For example, if only 50% of the ground squirrels make it to reproduction, but each squirrel has only four offspring, then the population still multiplies by two each generation. Think about how fast the population could still grow. In this case, then the population would be overwhelmingly large, but there are still more things that reduce the growth of the population. For example, habitat disaster. There are multiple ways this could happen, but a common one is where some kind of vehicle rolls over a burrow, collapsing it. In reality, in each litter, there are two to four babies and one or two litters every year. This means there are about 18 babies per squirrel.

The tomato plant that we planted didn’t work very well. We put a metal ring around it, and the squirrels climbed through the rings. We placed a cylinder around the plant, and the squirrels climbed over the cylinder. It seemed that we could do nothing to get away from the squirrels, so we just took the tomato plant out, and that was the end of our faithful tomato plant. Over the next few years, we would occasionally try to plant something else, but it


never really worked out, not necessarily because of the squirrels, but sometimes it was. I remember that a few years later in second grade when I went to Angel Island for a field trip was the first time I heard the reason that a lot of people say not to feed animals. Once you feed animals a few times, the animals start to rely on your food and stop trying to get food. If you don’t give food for a while, the animals will not have any food, and in consequence, will starve. The animals already work very hard themselves, and so should we.

They can be easily recognized for the white rings around their eyes. If you touch them they’ll feel very soft, but of course you can ’t. They run away most times they see you. It’s their defense mechanism.

s eye migrates from one side of its face to the other as it changes from being upright to swimming sideways like a flatfish.


California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus)

I remember going downtown to a fancy restaurant when I was young and looking at the menu, confused. I didn’t know what some of the dishes were. I remember my mom telling me that the restaurant served delicious fish and salad. At that time, I hated salad. All I liked was the dressing. So I chose the fish, which was halibut. When the dish arrived, I sampled my first taste of halibut. It was firm, juicy, and tender all at once.

When I went home, I started to research about halibut because it tasted so scrumptious. I expected a beautiful fish to match the beautiful white dish I had been served. Instead, they turned out creepy with weird looking eyes that moved from one side to another. They looked like they had been living in mud on the seafloor for way too long and ended up with long flat bodies. It was awfully disturbing, and I could not believe what I had eaten. The halibut’s weird eyes reminded me of when I watched scary movies and turned my head to one side so that my eyes were pulled in the other direction. I learned that halibut eyes are even more extraordinary than they look. Their uncanny eyes send messages about the color of their surroundings to their brain, which then changes the color of their body to camouflage. If only I could do that too!

Something that really caught my attention was that a halibut’s eye migrates from one side of its face to the other as it changes from being upright to swimming sideways like a flatfish. Then, an additional bone grows right under the eye that moved. The halibut eyes are on stalks and can move independently to have a wide field of vision. When I read that part, I never wanted to eat halibut again. It was amazingly cool, but I was so shocked and horrified.

I found out later in the book that halibut eat anchovies and other small fish and squid. Even though they mostly live at the bottom of the sea, they have been seen leaping out of the water while chasing anchovies! It is like they are playing a game of tag.

The halibut has a very unique skin. It has a pattern called countershading that helps with camouflage. The bottom of the halibut is white, so when predators like sharks swim underneath, the white blends in with the light color of the sea’s surface. The top part of the skin is dark, so when you see it from above, you just see the darkness of the seawater.

When I hear about or see halibut, I am always reminded of its spooky eyes, countershading patterns, and its long leaps out of the water to chase anchovies. What makes me sad is that the California halibut’s habitat is being destroyed. When California halibuts are young, they live in shallow water and eat plankton. Only when they are older do they move to deeper water. When we dredge shallow water and fill seas to gain more land, we destroy the habitats of these young halibuts. Halibuts’ habitats are also being destroyed by sea pollution. Instead of using plastic bags, we should use paper ones. I am hoping in the future, we will be careful about where we dredge or fill land, and we can use fewer plastic items. Next time you go fishing or to the beach, you can tell your friends and family about the California halibut and its special adaptations.


California Poppy

(Eschscholzia californica)

I don’t really recall the first time I drew something. When I was two, I remember getting oil pastels for the first time. I had drawn ten or so not-so-detailed drawings that would later find a home on a shelf in my room, from my past but not forgotten. I trace my hands on a smear of orange on thick paper. I’ve always loved shades of vermillion and bright orange.

The California poppy, or the Escholzia californica, is a bright orange poppy that’s the state flower and has been since 1903. A short-lived perennial, this poppy is from the Dicot angiosperms, which includes any flowering plants in the poppy family (Papaveraceae) with a pair of leaves like an emerald thread and white milky stems. To me, the twin leaves especially look like a forest about to set aflame. It may look edible, but don’t consume it! Unless you want your nervous system slowed and your tongue on fire from the bitterness, it is advised to leave it alone. If you for some reason are dying to try the poppy, it blooms from February through September, and is a pest in parts of Australia. It’s golden in color, like a beach in mid-June, but it’s usually hiding a dark middle.

Someone in my fourth grade class approached me, complimenting my drawing skills. It’s not like I was learning anything, so I spent my time doodling on pieces of scratch paper. I shook my head.

A crowd formed, clamoring around my wooden desk, stained with marker. All I could do was nod and smile fakely, because I knew that my art would never be as colorful or as beautiful yet delicate as the California Poppy. I don’t know how people can ask so many questions at the same time. It’s like they all want me to mindlessly obey them while they control my every pencil stroke while breathing down my neck. At least that’s what I felt.

The California poppy, also known as the cup of gold, grows mostly in sunny habitats with sandy soil. Being drought tolerant, they are adaptable to all kinds of weather and climates. The blossom, made out of four petals, can close up at night or when it’s cloudy. It blooms from a green calyx made of two sepals, enclosing the bud. At the end of its flowering cycle, the petals fall away to reveal a long seed pod, which goes from green to brown and later pops open to reveal small black seeds, which are sprayed everywhere.

I won’t tell you the rest of my story, like when I moved for the sixth and final time here in the Bay Area, or when I got accepted into the Nueva School for gifted students, or when I celebrated the first double-digit birthday I’ve ever had, at an art studio with old friends, rivals, and downright enemies that I would be leaving behind as I entered middle school. Their voices, feelings, and thoughts settled down in my contact list on my watch, so the reassuring ding can remind me of my past.

I’m eleven now, and I must admit I don’t know what I was doing for half of this process. It took determination, hardship, and luck. You only get to live once, so go get out there and find your people. The California poppy may be a pest in parts of Australia, and it may close up in the evening hours, but in the end, its long brown seed pod always pops open, revealing what’s inside.


I celebrated the first double-digit birthday I’ ve ever had, at an art studio with old friends, rivals, and downright enemies that I would be leaving behind as I entered middle school. Their voices, feelings, and thoughts settled down in my contact list on my watch, so the reassuring ding can remind me of my past.

Red like a plump strawberry, the frog sits in the green grass. Black flecks like obsidian dot the frog's body, with its round eye staring into space as if


California Red-legged Frog (Rana draytonii)

Red like a plump strawberry, the frog sits in the green grass. Black flecks like obsidian dot the frog’s body, with its round eye staring into space as if contemplating the meaning of life. California red-legged frogs are the largest frogs in the Western United States. They are named for their red legs and abdomen. The scientific name is Ranadraytonii. Their name states that they are native to California and are not found anywhere else. These frogs were discovered by Sean Barry in Butte County in 1997. The frogs used to be much more common in California and are listed as threatened or vulnerable.

California red-legged frogs live almost exclusively in California but have been found in Baja, Mexico. Adult frogs require a dense, shrubby, or emergent riparian vegetation closely associated with deep, still, or slow-moving waters. These well-vegetated areas along river corridors are needed for shelter. Red-legged frogs like slow-moving water or standing in deep ponds, pools, and streams. The diet of California red-legged frogs is extremely variable. Invertebrates, small tree frogs, and mammals are eaten by adults, while larvae are thought to feed on algae. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “A California red-legged frog will eat anything it can catch and fit in its mouth.” The California red-legged frog can grow anywhere from 5 to 12 inches long and live to about ten years in the wild, yet the National Wildlife Federation states, “It’s suspected that many do not live this long.” This may be due to threats like invasive species and habitat loss.

California red-legged frogs are a threatened species. They have been negatively impacted by habitat loss, and as the National Wildlife Federation states, “farms, homes, and other buildings have been built on their wetland habitats.” Additionally, human water usage is affecting the frogs’ homes and ability to reproduce. The California red-legged frog population has also been impacted by people eating them. The Golden Gate National Park Conservatory reports that “in the past, over 80,000 red-legged frogs were harvested annually for their legs.” This large number greatly reduced the population and contributed to the California red-legged frog’s threatened status.

There are many interesting facts about the California red-legged frog. The first fact of many is adults are nocturnal and juveniles are active day and night. The frogs are also inactive in cold and hot temperatures during the winter and summer, but they are active all year in coastal areas where temperatures don’t fluctuate as much. California red-legged frogs have paired vocal sacks and, when communicating, usually call into the air. They can also make mating calls underwater and under a sheet of ice. The advertisement call of the California Red-legged Frog can be described as a weak series of 5 - 7 notes, sounding like uh-uh-uh-uh-uh, lasting 1-3 seconds that do not have a lot of volumes. After this series, there is sometimes a last note, similar to a growl.

The population will continue to decrease if nothing is done to protect them. If nothing is done to protect these frogs, it is very likely that they will move from being threatened to endangered and possibly extinct in a few years. To help California red-legged frogs, people are planting native wetland plants and managing invasive species. Park biologists regularly count red-legged frog egg masses at Mori Point to track breeding activity and see how the population is doing. These acts are a good starting point for helping these frogs, but there are only a few people. To save these frogs, we need to pitch in ourselves, make donations, plant native plants in wetlands, and try to get rid of predators threatening some eggs. You may think that it is not important to save them, but if we do this, it might prompt others to save other threatened or endangered species everywhere.


California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

All my life, I have grown up alongside California Sagebrush. Seen them bloom and wither, rise and fall, live and die. In the summer, every walk I take, I see them blooming and thriving. In the winter, they stand strong, but are internally drooping. Many childhood memories that I have include this plant. Surround it. Indulge in it. Right now, I can feel the authentic scent of California Sagebrush, filling the air. It has a sharp and spicy smell, almost like the scent of fresh mountain snow mixed with ginger. It inhabits the air, spreading a bit of its spiciness everywhere. It almost feels welcoming, kind, as if, underneath its sharp edges, the scent is thoughtful and forgiving.

If I take a walk, I’m sure to see the light green, almost brown, leaves that dot the soil. The yellow blossoms brown the tops of these graceful plants. They’re beautiful, but strong. Soft, but powerful. Thin, but resistant. I have never, even once, seen one of these delicate-looking plants lose a single flower because of the wind. Never have I seen one ripped from the ground by the intense floods that rippled through their territory. As the other plants sway and bend, dropping all kinds of sticks on the pathway, the California Sagebrush is composed, but still deadly.

Toxins drip from the leaves of these plants. They have never had a way in the world; They’ve made one. If others refuse to let them in, these resilient plants will create a path. These plants are not only strategic, but ambitious. In nearly impossible circumstances, they’ve thrived instead of died. It’s a fire that can still blaze in the snow, yet ice that won’t melt in the heat. It will always be the steadiest plant in a garden. It’ll be by far the most reliable in a firestorm, and even so, it also regenerates the fastest after its life is taken by a fire. Like a diamond, it won’t be ruined. It’s highly flammable, but it won’t burn down. It can still grow. Still thrive. This plant has the mind of an animal, perhaps even better than some. That is only one of the things that creates a marvelous plant like this.

California Sagebrush, large and delicate-looking as it is, is highly adaptable. It can tolerate almost any soils, even difficult living conditions like flooded areas, wildfire sites, and spots with many herbivores living nearby. One of the few things that this plant won’t tolerate is a shaded region. California Sagebrush lives for challenging areas, but won’t settle for easy areas, sheltered from all the elements. It has to be out in the open, exposed to the rain and sun, wind and soil shifts. Quite a brave thing to do as a plant, really, when many things can harm you, but you’re pretty much powerless to stop it.

This plant can also become tea, which can taste quite good, depending on how it’s prepared, who brews it, how it’s brewed, and, most importantly, your own personal taste. In a tea, the normally brown appearance of the plant melts away, leaving it a lighter green. Finally, this species is a beautiful one to add to your garden. It is one of the only plants that can look silver, at any time of day. When backlit by the sun, it seems to glow. If you have an open and lit garden, make sure to be there when the dull leaves transform into a plant made of precious, delicate silver as the sun gives it energy. It’s quite a breathtaking moment to behold.

All in all, the California Sagebrush is quite a beautiful, and special, sight to see, especially on a windy day, where the yellow flowers bend on their stalks, never breaking off. As these plants also grow in the desert, they’ve adapted to make themselves seen. In the middle of a sandy snowstorm, what color is easier to see than red?



If you ever find a flower in the shade of sharp red in the middle of the desert, pause for a second, and check for many thin stems, small, delicate looking leaves, and flowers in the general shape of a cone. If the plant has all of these identifying traits, it’s most likely the California Sagebrush. One last identifying feature is a gray, round, tiny bird with small wings: The California Gnatcatcher, or the Polioptila californica. This bird will only look quite satisfied when it’s perched happily on one of the thin stems of the California Sagebrush, which are, as a fun bonus, just the perfect size for its more than miniature talons. More importantly than that, though, the California Gnatcatcher is a very important species to our world, as every single species is. This precious, dying bird lives almost exclusively on shrub communities in which California Sagebrush makes up 95% or more of the plants in that area. The California Sagebrush is not, however, only home to this endangered species. It can provide homes for multiple amphibians, reptiles, small birds, and small mammals. This makes it not only an important species, but a keystone one, as it is important to the ‘daily life’ of so many diverse species, from the most common lizard to the endangered bird, the California Gnatcatcher.

The scientific name of this plant, Artemisia californica, comes from a myth that this plant once helped the Goddess Artemis. She then gave the California Sagebrush her name, as a symbol of her gratitude for its gracious help. Artemis, the protector of animals, Artemis, the fierce, Artemis, the kind, Artemis, the caring. I wish that the world knew that. I wish they knew California Sagebrush was protected by a goddess. Then, maybe they would consider the plant. Care for it. From this moment on, honor this powerful goddess’s blessing. Keep these special, powerful, beautiful, plants safe.

for it. From this moment on, honor this powerful goddess's blessing. Keep these special, powerful, beautiful, plants safe.

California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

A California Scrub Jay is searching for food from the air, feeling the breeze from above. It is a quiet and peaceful day. Suddenly, in the corner of his eye, he sees a raptor barrel toward him at over 45 mph. The raptor chose the wrong bird to mess with, although he seems overconfident. Even though they are at least 3 times larger than the CA Scrub Jay, they trade maneuverability for speed in aerial flight. The jay is getting chased, and his life will be over if he doesn’t do something soon. The jay flanks the raptor quickly. The raptor rolls behind the jay. He extends his talons and tries to claw the jay. The lighter, faster jay dodges and leads the raptor into a dense population of trees reaching up to 300 feet. There is a small margin for error for the raptor, and the jay knows that error is coming. The jay takes very tight turns, pulling his body to do tricky aerial maneuvers. Twenty seconds later, the jay flies through a small gap in the trees. The raptor wasn’t quick enough to react this time. The raptor’s wing strikes a branch and tears off half of his wing. He plummets out of the sky, bleeding. The jay looks over to his side and does a beak smile. The jay knows that today, he and his family will be getting food, as well as their about-to-be-born babies.

Sometimes I wonder, CouldIbeliketheScrubJay?CouldIbesmallandnimble? Yes. Compared to others in my grade, whether it is playing tag or getting chased, sometimes I fit into gaps others don’t. Sometimes when I am defensive, like when other people tick me off, I can be aggressive. I remember one day in Kindergarten, I was playing tag with my friends, Hamza and Smiyan. When I was it, I was chasing after them. Every time I got close to them, they couldn’t fit in one of the gaps, but I could. They ended up having to take a long way around, which meant I was able to get close enough to them. I wouldn’t know until after, but there were just 30 seconds left until recess was over. I pushed so hard and got so close to them. But it was too late…or was it? Hamza was closest, so I went after him. I remember him rapidly losing speed down the playground as his legs cut out. I realized two pillars were blocking my path but cleverly slipped through them and tagged Hamza on the back.

Scrub jays are interesting creatures, to say the least. Their capabilities are ones I thought a small bird could never have. I never thought a bird like this could collect past episodes of their life and use that for future reference, which is called retrospective cognition. I didn’t think they could reflect on possible states of mating further than the immediate future either, which would be prospective cognition. I also didn’t think that birds could have funerals for one another (really just screeching over the dead body for at least half an hour.) Just years ago, the MTT (mental time travel) hypothesis held that only humans could achieve retro or prospective cognition. Jays have proven that wrong in a recent study done by testing what food the jay would prefer in a certain mental state, such as wanting to eat or not. Jays also do not migrate like other birds. They eat insects, fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, and sometimes small animals. The truly amazing thing is their body-to-brain mass ratio, one of the highest in the animal kingdom. The California scrub jay truly is a shining star.

When I observe the California Scrub Jay, I find they have an aggressive but somewhat mischievous side. Sometimes, the Scrub Jay will hide acorns, and stock them for food, as do squirrels but in the safety of their home. Scrub jays just do it anywhere they feel comfortable. It is not rare, however, that jays will go to the extent of stealing others’ food if necessary to survive. But what I find amazing about these creatures is that they look to see if any jay is watching them. That is the same thing we would do when stealing items from other people. Maybe the gap between humans and animals is not as big as we thought. If you look into what animals can do, you realize how different and similar they are. This is the same case for the Scrub Jay. They can think somewhat like a human in very specific ways.


Just years ago, the MTT (mental time travel)

When I think back on playing tag that day, I thought I could not get Hamza or Smiyan. After all, it was just a constant cycle of me tagging them and getting tagged back in a matter of minutes. But I was able to predict and think wisely, like a Scrub Jay, yet still having that tint of mischievousness and aggressiveness on my side. I took risks to achieve my goal and stole opportunities from them, winning a couple of times, even though it was just a lame game of tag played by a bunch of kindergartners. It was not like it was that important. Right? Well, it was, in the sense, it prepared me for new experiences and taught me what to do next time. Let’s say you have the time of your life playing hide and seek. You might want to treasure that memory and save it for next time. Just like a Scrub Jay would think. I can now reflect six years later and say I still remember that day very clearly. We would play many more times but eventually get separated, as most friends do.

The Scrub Jay feels like this one tree that doesn’t sway to the right. That one flower that doesn’t bloom. That person that doesn’t run outside, but studies. They feel different from the others. They don’t stay with anyone, nor do they abandon anyone. The species seems to find that happy medium, something everyone can live with. They eat to survive, and their prey might not like it, but they’re doing their part in balancing the ecosystem and keeping the earth alive. The Scrub Jay is a very unique bird. Each species has its ability, and for the CA scrub-jay, that’s more than true. They can do so many things that make us humans wonder, “Are all other species obsolete to humans when it comes to brain power and human activities?” Right now, they can do human-like things, which is somewhat amazing looking at their size as a very small bird and their intelligence.

Looking to the future, I can happily say that the Scrub Jay is not and will not become an endangered species, according to the National Wildlife Federation’s endangered species list. Right now, I am still shocked by what the California Scrub Jay can do and what the species are capable of accomplishing as a group. When I get older, I hope I still retain that love and drive for an intelligent creature like the Scrub Jay. When I go on trips, I hope, just for one day, to see the California scrub-jay in person, not online and on YouTube. If I can do that, maybe I could finally rest knowing that I just got to see one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, and amazing creatures of the animal kingdom. Who knows? Maybe I will become a tree hugger someday. But for now, I can just be my ordinary self, learning new things every day, as I observe the world around me.


California Sea Lion (Zalophus


The California sea lion (Zalophuscalifornianus) is a unique sea lion that is native to California. Our local sea lions are the ones that humans use in shows where the sea lions jump through hoops and balance balls on their noses. This is because they are extremely intelligent and coordinated. According to the Marine Mammal Center, California Sea Lions evolved from a common ancestor that dates back to around 25 million years ago . Their unique attributes and adaptations help them survive in our changing world and remain an icon of the California Coast.

Pier 39 in San Francisco has continued to be one of the most popular places to view sea lions. On June 15, each year more than half of all pups of California sea lions are born, which means fifty percent of them have the same birthday! Their population has been steadily increasing each year since October 21, 1972, when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted. “The MMPA established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they ceased to be significant functioning elements of the ecosystems of which they are a part.” People wanted to keep the population healthy because they play a vital role in the marine life ecosystem.

Sea Lions live up to 30 years. During their lifespan, they hunt prey such as squid, anchovies, mackerel, rockfish, and sardines. (NOAA). Still, they are not the top dog along the Pacific Coast. Larger marine animals hunt them as prey, notably orcas and a variety of sharks. Sea Lions play multiple roles in an ecosystem, as the prey and hunt. They maintain the population of their prey and contribute to the ecosystem.

California Sea lions have unique traits that help them camouflage and survive in their local environment. At birth they are dark brown to black, fading to light brown within a few weeks. When pups are just four to five months old, they molt. The start of puberty. Their skin comes off replaced with a light gray pelage. When they reach adulthood, males molt in January and February. Females molt from early autumn through the winter. Males become chocolate brown as their final color. Females are tan or blond.

The adult male’s body is robust at the neck, shoulders, and chest, with a rather slender hind end. Females and juveniles are slender-bodied and more streamlined. Their limbs have evolved into flippers, and their body shape allows efficient movement through the water. They have front flippers that are larger than the back ones which are a little stubbier. Their large front flippers allow them to paddle and swim more efficiently, making them killer swimmers.

Sea lions have multiple social traits that help them survive in harsh conditions. They live in large communities near each other because there is strength in numbers. Males are possessive towards their mates. If another male tries to go near their mates, the male partner will attack the intruder. This indicates that they are always alert and aware of possible intruders. Their chances of survival increase because males protect their mates. The females will protect their offspring until they can hunt for themselves. After only three weeks, females are ready to mate with another male! This increases their chances of survival because they can reproduce faster.

They have many physical adaptations that help them survive in the ocean. They have multiple layers of thick blubber that aids in temperature control. They spend a lot of their time in cold waters, the blubber keeps them warm. Their vision on land is not very good, but in water it is excellent. Their eyes are designed to focus in water because they hunt for food underwater! Their muscle tissue stores more oxygen than ours.


They have the ability to direct oxygen-rich blood to organs where it is most needed. Since they spend most of their lives underwater hunting, they need to be able to hold their oxygen levels longer.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, sea lions started coming to Pier 39. Tourists come from all around the world to see them. Personally, I have never seen a sea lion, but I have always thought that they were cute. One day I would like to go to the pier and see them for myself. If humans don’t start making dramatic changes, the CA sea lion may not be around much longer. Even though the California Sea Lion has had a protection act in their favor, it does not change water pollution; it does not change that they still could be getting tangled up in fishing gear. If animals can learn to adapt over many years, humans can probably learn to do the same.

Did you know that Slender Salamanders have no lungs, yeah it' s crazy I know, like don’t you need lungs to breathe!!!????


California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)

I was with two high school students and JT Lin in the old outdoor classroom brainstorming for a story that we were writing about Spiderman. We were looking for random stuff to give us some inspiration, so we rolled a log over and I think we saw a Slender Salamander. It looked like just a small skinny snake with arms and a back with little spots of black and brown. I looked at it for one second and thought ‘SNAKE!!!! I backed up and then realized it was a salamander. I was about to say something until one of the high schoolers beat me to it. They said “I think we should put the log back down”. We all agreed and that was my only experience with a Slender Salamander. I saw that the Slender Salamander was around a big damp space under the log. I also saw that the Salamander looked really brown with a big long red stripe down its back. It also had a few black spots on its side and really big eyes like the face of a cartoon character. Did you know that Slender Salamanders have no lungs, yeah it’s crazy I know, like don’t you need lungs to breathe!!!???? So instead of breathing through lungs they respire through their skin and mouth tissues. Slender Salamanders also have only four fingers; they are literally cartoon characters!!! Slender Salamanders are very slender (I know who would think that!!!????). One researcher watched a slender salamander twist its tail into a knot around a garter snake’s head (garter snakes are one of their predators). It then secreted a substance that glued the snake’s jaws shut for 48 hours. The Slender Salamander’s original response was to thrash back-and-forth rapidly and then go perfectly still.

I think that in the future people will be amazed by Slender Salamanders from stories and facts about the Slender Salamander.


California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense)

I remember all the tiny salamanders with long tails waddling away from us. We chased every little salamander unti they all fled into the woods seeking shelter. I remember how I held the little salamander with greasy skin and a wiggling tail. We named him Wobbles. Wobbles stayed in our classroom for many months, cheering us on as we examined little leaves through our microscopes. One day, Wobbles escaped his domestication and made a run for the door, but when my friend saw his tail scurrying across the wooden planks, he was stopped in his tracks before he could slip out. After that, our class was dedicated to ensuring that Wobbles remained safely in his domain. We added wood and Duct Tape to all of his little openings in the domain. At the end of the year, we sadly had to say goodbye to Wobbles as we went into the summer break. We made frequent visits to feed the little guy who now inhabited a bigger outdoor domain that some 8th graders had built for him.

Although I was in elementary school, meeting Wobbles is when my fascination with salamanders began. I am and will always be interested in learning more about Wobbles’ species. Most recently, I’ve been more curious than I’ve ever been about Tiger Salamanders. I listen to every word my brother tells me: the needle-like teeth, slimy skin, and spotted stripes of yellows and browns. My brother had been mesmerized when the zookeeper came to visit his class when he was ten years old.

In my own research, I discovered that these couch potatoes can spend up to half of their year underground in their nice and cozy nests. The warm summer heat makes them hibernate, like bears. Even though they spend almost all of the year underground, these speedy cheetahs can swim up to ten miles per hour! Since these salamanders stay half of the year in their burrow, they need to eat when they come out! The California Tiger Salamander eats spiders, earthworms, and small insects. They love to dig their hole next to vernal pools to keep them from drying out in the summertime.

Even though this loveable creature is thriving right now, in 2004, they were listed as an endangered species. The Tiger Salamander is threatened by the destruction of its habitat and cars hitting the salamander when it tries to cross the road after a rainy day. After five years of the Tiger Salamander being threatened, in 2009, the salamander was given over 50,000 acres of land to live in. The Tiger Salamander has almost doubled its population in the last 10 years.

When I see Tiger Salamanders in zoos, it takes me back to the first time I held up Wobbles. I will always be in awe of how we saved this species, from nearly extinct to almost doubling its population. Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if the Tiger Salamander went extinct? What would the world look like after that happened? I always remember when I started my journey by taking care of Wobbles because this was the spark of my lifelong love of salamanders.


One day, Wobbles escaped his domestication and made a run for the door, but when my friend saw his tail scurrying across the wooden planks, he was stopped in his tracks before he could slip out. After that, our class was dedicated to ensuring that Wobbles remained safely in his domain.

We fight because, well we are siblings, that's what siblings do. We fight like cats and dogs.

California Vole (Microtus californicus)

I remember looking through this book that my parents got for my brother when he was born. It was his name spelled out using the first letters of different animals. And I remember the V in his name was a vole. I remember reading that book and wondering, what’s a vole? and thinking it looks like a mix of a mouse and a chipmunk. So, what are California voles?

CA voles are semi-fossorial, which means that they live above and below ground. A female can have two to five litters with one to eleven young in each litter. That means a female can have up to fifty-five young in her lifespan. But, only less than half of those survive to adulthood because they get eaten by predators. An average vole lives for a few months, but the lucky ones can live up to a year. Females will leave their litters if exposed to the pheromones of unknown males. Adult males will cannibalize young that are not theirs. That reduces the CA vole population just a little bit. The vole has many predators, including coyotes, kestrels, hawks, weasels, kits, owls, snakes, herons, egrets, and feral cats. With so many predators, the CA vole population decreases. When they go out to scavenge for food, they urinate to communicate with the other voles, but their urine also attracts predators. It reminds me of yellow snow and how I accidentally ate some when I was little.

Males are generally bigger than females. The top of the animals, eyes, and sometimes the tail of the animal are usually darker colors; browns, grays, blacks, and reds, while the bottom and feet are lighter colors; blues, grays, and whites. They live in most parts of California, and their status is not threatened or of least concern. But four of their subspecies are endangered. They live in grasslands, deserts, and marine intertidal, broadleaved chaparral, and oak woodlands. They don’t migrate, unlike bears.

CA voles are important prey to their predators, food chain, and ecosystem. Imagine all the predators of the CA vole going extinct because the CA voles were gone. The food chain relies on all these different animals to keep it going and not collapse. Think about your favorite food–what if you suddenly could never have it? How would you feel? Think about all those other people just like you, who love the same food as you. Maybe it would be a disaster. Just like if Voles disappeared, everything would go haywire.

Just because CA voles aren’t endangered, it does not mean that we should hunt and kill them. The food chain is very fragile. If voles are alive, then coyotes, kestrels, hawks, weasels, kits, owls, snakes, herons, egrets, and feral cats are alive. Writing and researching about voles made me think about both endangered and nonendangered animals and how important it is to save them before they go extinct. I can almost hear the baby voles fighting for attention. That brings me back to my brother. CA voles will fight with each other if they don’t get enough attention. Just like how my brother and I fight a lot but not because of that reason. We fight because, well we are siblings, that’s what siblings do. We fight like cats and dogs. I hope you learned more about CA voles and want to learn more.


Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

When I was younger, I used to love oaks and I still love them today. I have many memories of coast live oaks, but one of them really stood out to me. I was going to the park with my brother. At the center of the park, there was this big Coast live oak, and naturally, me and my brother started collecting acorns. I loved the Coast live oaks because they were never too tall to climb, and the rough bark was so texture-filled.

It started to get hot, so we hid under the tree to cool off. The generous shade of the Coast live oak spread the cool air to me and my brother. I lay on my back next to my brother looking at the pointed leaves and the bugs flying around the tree. The leaves were like teeny tiny porcupines, waiting for one daring enough to try and touch it. Once I was cool enough, I wanted to climb the tree. I had never been a good climber, so of course, the first time I tried to climb, I fell and cut my hand. It stung like a dull bee sting. I brushed it off quickly and started taking turns with my brother, who was able to climb the tree first. After about ten minutes, I, with my scraped hands, finally got to the top of the branch I was trying to climb. I did not savor the moment, so I hopped down to play on the swing.

The coast live oak does not live by the coast, rather, it likes to grow a little farther down, but you can’t grow it too far down. It has a very specific range of within 100 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean, where the elevation’s less than 700 meters. It is quite picky for a tree. Younger oaks need some water, and they need it quite frequently. But as they mature, they do not need water as frequently. The mist/fog generally helps water the Coast live oaks. Oaks do not seem like they have many interesting features, but they do.

You don’t want to fertilize oaks. They make their fertilizer from the leaves. Oaks shelter and house many other creatures. You may not see it from afar, but when you look closely, you may see many things that you did not see before. You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t judge an oak by its appearance.

The coast live oaks are evergreen. I love the color green because every time I think of green, it reminds me of the leaves of oak trees. Bright lush green with a convex shape. The oaks are unfortunately susceptible to many illnesses, like the sudden oak death and gold spotted oak borer. Oaks are warriors, and they persist through it. Oaks flower in both spring and winter, which I find interesting because most plants only flower in the spring. It is monoecious, which means that it reproduces on its own! Think about that. You can just plant the seed like that without the whole process. A huge convenience. Oaks grow 30-80 feet tall. They can also live up to 250 years, That’s about 3.15 times the average human lifespan.

Now when I look back, I see myself still there at the oak tree. Sitting under the branches and trying to climb. Like the Coast live oak, pushing back and persisting throughout its life. No matter what it goes through. Because it has to. Sometimes, I see myself, asking one question. How do I persist?


Oaks do not seem like they have many interesting features, but they do.

Redwoods don’t have phones and they turned out great.

Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

In my bedroom there is a window. If you look out of it, you will see a tree. Not just any tree, a Redwood tree. Every night, I fall asleep looking up at the branches and the stars peeking through my window. Growing up in Northern California, Redwoods have always been a big part of my life. When my family goes camping we walk on the fallen needles and smell the fresh scent of their bark. At home, I enjoy reading books in the cool shade of the big Redwood in my front yard. Sometimes, I read out loud because Redwood trees are really good listeners.

Redwoods, also known as Sequoia sempervirens, are majestic trees. Why? This is because Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world with a record of up to 400 feet. The tallest redwood is named Hyperion, after the titan of heavenly light. Redwoods are just like gods because they are big and majestic, looming over everyone else. They are an evergreen tree, which means they are green all year round, even in winter. This fantastic tree doesn’t just stop there; it also has some features that help them with fire. The bark traps moisture, so when fire comes it has a weapon. Also, the branches are up really high so it can fight fire without the branches being too close to the fire. Redwoods have this adaptation because they live in places that are prone to fire, like California. They are also really close with the giant sequoia family, because both of them are cypress.

Unfortunately, Redwoods are endangered. Climate change has created hotter temperatures, so the protection that Redwoods have always used is not working well. Hotter air temperatures make it harder for the trees to get moisture out of the air, which is something they rely on. Also, drought conditions have been hard on Redwoods, which need a lot of water for their roots. When they do not get enough water, they cannot fight infections and bugs. The redwood is really interesting because they spread their roots to other places and then create more trees. The tree is said to have both male and female reproducing parts. They have cones that are like seeds, so when the wind comes, the tree’s cones fall to the ground and bam–you have a new redwood. That’s the reproduction of redwoods.

Redwoods are really good listeners. So, I think we humans should take time to listen to each other so we can live in peace. I know that redwoods are good listeners because I used to read to them and they never interrupted. We should put down our phones and air pods and listen to each other more often. A lot of people look at their phones at dinner and it is really frustrating. It is frustrating because they don’t actually listen to you, they just type. It also implies that they don’t like you because they are half-ignoring you. So don’t get rid of your phones but take a break from screens and give your poor eyes a rest. Redwoods don’t have phones and they turned out great.


Coyote (Canis latrans)

I can still vividly remember the time my family saw our first coyote. I was so, so tired from a five-mile hike at Yellowstone, and I was just looking forward to a nice nap. But as soon as I was about to fall asleep, I heard shouts of excitement from a group of photographers, my dad among them. Annoyed, I went out to see what all this commotion was about, and can you guess what I saw? That’s right. I saw a coyote, about an arm’s length away from me, crossing the street. It was extremely cute, but many people tried to chase after it to pet it and all that stuff. And that is when I fell in love with the animal I am now going to tell you about.

The coyote has nineteen different subspecies. That’s right, nineteen. Their range stretches from Panama to Canada. However, coyotes have been colonizing urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, whereas before, coyotes were mainly the predators in deserts and open prairies. The contrast between these two habitats is like day and night. The coyotes look far more adapted to their former habitat than the urban areas. Take one look at their brown-grayish pelts and you can tell. Another few adaptations to their area include abilities to run up to 65 kilometers per hour, the ability to jump horizontal distances of 4 meters, and the ability to communicate with each other with a unique call. I mean, coyotes can generate 11 unique sounds! They’re living sound machines!

Coyotes mate for life. Their breeding season runs from January to March, and a litter can range from three to twelve pups. All the young are born blind and can see after ten days. The parents feed the pups regurgitated food, just like young penguins! All the pups can hunt by the following fall. The males leave their parents after six months, while the females stay. In the winter, coyotes form packs for better hunting and more warmth. This behavior is exactly like that of a wolf! Eastern coyotes are part wolf. Wolves and cougars are natural coyote competitors, so many scientists say that the reason coyote populations are booming is that a lot of their competitors were “removed”, basically hunted. Coyotes are a part of the Canidae family, basically the dog family, as are wolves, cougars, and jackals. And whatever you do, do not feed a coyote. Because if you do, then they will stop practicing hunting and rely on only you for food, and if you go away, they will starve.

Seeing how humans wanted to pet and domesticate wild animals made me want to help them. That was when I realized that there had been too much human interaction with animals and that coyotes and other animals like it need to be left alone. So I hope that, armed with all this new information that I have given you, you will help not just the coyote, but all animals retain their natural habitat.

That was when I realized that there has been too much human interaction with animals and that coyotes and other
What a beautiful flower–just a small part in the ecosystem, yet so big in our lives.

Douglas Iris (Iris


I remember the worst days during Covid: boring days, stuck-in-your-house days, and online school days. Crazy days, with skies as orange as carrots and dull days when I would spin around in circles, trying to stay interested. Maintaining a calm mind through one day could be so unthinkable. If I stayed busy however, I could avoid going totally loopy in the afternoon. So I would always be searching for something to do.

During those days, the only things that I could find to entertain myself was being outside, being with my family, and online school. I could only last so long with my family before I went crazy; the five of us cooped up in a tiny, two- bedroom house could cause problems. And online school was just too simple, too predictable. The same routine every single day. That left being outside. The fresh air relieved me from my computer screen and made my cheeks turn a rosy pink. I loved the feeling of the petals of the flowers in my yard, soft and cozy - like a baby’s skin. I soon started to spend almost all my days outside.

But, of course, those days couldn’t last forever. My days are more packed now, with dance for more than half of my week and more activities for a more challenging school. Still, my love for nature could not end. Ever since those times during Covid, I have appreciated those moments when I can breathe in and feel the refreshing air. So when I found out about the douglas iris, I already knew what enchantment and beauty it could hold.

This gorgeous flower blooms in spring (like most flowers), and during that time it produces large, colorful petals to attract pollinators such as insects and hummingbirds. The largest, base petals have a watercolor look with dark colored veins running through spots of yellow and lavender. The colors of the petals can range from a deep violet to a pale blue, some of my favorite colors.

Named after David Douglas, a Scottish collector, the average height of this flower is a couple inches taller than a foot, and this plant can spread in clusters as long as twelve to twenty-four inches. This flower can be found on coastal bluffs, prairies, and evergreen forests. During dry seasons or cold seasons, this flower tends to seemingly disappear. This is one strategy that the douglas iris uses to survive in a harsh climate. After the weather cools down, the flower should reemerge.

The douglas iris is a flower that is a part of the Iridaceae (or iris) family and can grow in large amounts at a time, or can be a single burst of color on the floor. The douglas iris is one of the most common iris flowers, along with the Irislongipetala and the Irismacrosiphon. Despite its fragile looks, the douglas iris can survive in places with poor drainage quality and can grow in places with droughts, like in California, where we experience many dry periods. The douglas iris remains as one of my favorite flowers I know of.

Even with busy days and hectic hours, I still try to find a little bit of time to appreciate the world around me, whether it’s right before or after school. Even just a minute can make my day a little brighter. What a beautiful flower–just a small part in the ecosystem, yet so big in our lives. The douglas iris is such a gorgeous flower, giving us a reminder of how such a small part of this world can give off such a magnificent look.


Dungeness Crab (Metacarcinus magister)

The Bay Area’s dungeness crabs are a holiday tradition. But, these tasty, crispy crabs have come a long way to make it onto our dinner plates. In January, they hatch from their eggs on the Pacific Coast, as plankton, eating other plankton. During the day, they stay 75 feet below the ocean where they are less likely to get eaten. In May, they start their 20-mile migration all the way to the San Francisco Bay! Some crabs stay in the ocean, but most ride on jellyfish into the San Francisco Bay. Jellyfish are excellent sources of transportation because the jellyfish give them protection from predators like salmon and octopus. Once they swarm into the San Francisco Bay, they start their migration to the San Pablo Bay. It’s a long journey, but once they get there, they start crawling along its soft, shallow bay. Here in the San Pablo Bay, they usually find smaller fish and shellfish to eat. If there is not enough food, they start eating smaller dungeness crabs to survive. The smaller crabs shed their shells about 12 times until they become the equivalent of teenagers.

During mating season, males attract females with pheromones, which are chemical scents. These now “teenage” crabs crawl along the bay’s bottom into deeper channels of the central bay. They then travel out the golden gate and into the pacific coast where they were born, to reproduce. By then, they are about four inches wide. If you were to travel the same distance on foot, in proportion to our size, you’d walk from San Francisco to San Diego!

In the cold ocean waters, they grow to their full adult size. Crabs that grow up in the bay are able to be caught and eaten by three years old, while crabs that grow up in the ocean take four years! That’s how much more nutritious the bay’s water is! Like I said, the dungeness crabs go a long way before treating you to a nice dinner. The dungeness crabs can vary in colors that range from a yellowish brown to purple. Their shells look like a raw ruby. The oval carapace can grow up to 25 cm, but in most crabs it’s lower than 20cm. The crabs can weigh up to 2kg/4.4lb and can live up to 8-13 years. Commercially caught crabs usually live up to only four years before being caught and ending up on a dinner plate. Once our next door neighbor gave us three dungeness crabs as a gift of gratitude. She said she got them from one of her friends who went fishing that day and caught them and they were fully grown! My dad ended up grilling them, and having them for dinner with my mom. The scent filled the room right when my dad came in with the grilled crabs. Unfortunately, I didn’t eat any, but they looked so crispy and delicious. Now I really regret not having some for myself.

The crabs can be found as low as 230m but usually found above 90m. Crabs in adulthood eat mostly bivalves, crustaceans, and fish. Crabs in childhood eat mostly fish, shrimp, molluscs, and crustaceans. They use their claws, sharp like a knife, to tear apart food items that they have salvaged and find the meat that they want inside. The food then gets crushed by two hard mandibles (the bones in your jaw). They also use their claws for defense against predators such as seals, sea lions, bigger fish like salmon, and humans. When the dungeness crab sees a predator coming for dinner, they bury themselves almost completely in the sand. Now you might be wondering, how come they don’t suffocate? Well they’ve adapted to grow little hairs around their gills to stop small grains of sand from clogging them and not being able to breath. Once the predator has passed, they come out of their hiding spot and continue whatever they were doing. These crabs can sometimes be found at low tide in muddy bays with lots of eelgrass. The dungeness crab locations can range from Pribilof Point of Alaska to Point Conception of California!


You can help by not using pesticides in your yard and telling other people not to use them. Dungeness crabs have been making their journey for generations now, but now the species might be threatened. Spread the word, and here’s to a new, clean, San Francisco Bay!

The dungeness crab is not overfished, but now two new threats loom. The first is excessive sand mining. Miners are taking sand out of the bay to make concrete. In the past few years, sand miners have taken more sand out of the bay than they ever had. This is making it much more difficult for the dungeness crabs to climb out of the bay and into the pacific coast. If they are not able to make it into the pacific coast, they can’t reproduce and keep the species going. The second threat is pesticide pollution. Pesticides that people use in their yards wash into the bay when it rains, or rivers that lead to the bay. You can help by not using pesticides in your yard and telling other people not to use them. Dungeness crabs have been making their journey for generations now, but now the species might be threatened. Spread the word, and here’s to a new, clean, San Francisco Bay!


Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)

As I entered the water, I immediately looked down to spot some fish. But I could see nothing but gray! Determined, I propelled myself forward, looking for life. Still, I could only see gray! Suddenly, I saw it! The life I saw was a beautiful array of colors! There were turtles, big fish, small fish, and colorful fish. One time, my family and I went to Maui, Hawaii for vacation. My favorite thing that we did there was snorkeling because I got to see many different types of life. This experience snorkeling during my family vacation to Maui, Hawaii showed me how unexpected nature can be. One of the many examples is this fish. Meet…the garibaldi!

Garibaldi’s are a blinding orange color as bright as the sun. They are endemic to California, meaning that they are only found on California’s coastlines. The average garibaldi varies between 12-14 inches long, and they can live up to 12 years in the wild. Though in aquariums, they can live up to 17 years. When a garibaldi is scared, it makes a faint low thumping noise with its teeth like a kick drum. Garibaldi’s are also known as the biggest damselfish alive. Spawning season is March through July. At the beginning of spawning season in March, the males have to start making nests to impress females before it ends in July. The males usually make the nests out of red algae. They clip each algae to be one inch, so that the eggs can rest comfortably on them. After the male is done making his nest, he attempts to draw females’ attention by clicking his teeth and doing swimming displays. The tidiness of the nest and the swimming of the loops is everything to the females. Females are very picky and will usually visit around 15 nests before deciding which ones to lay eggs in. If a female decides to stay at a nest, she will lay 15,000-18,000 bright yellow eggs. Directly after she lays the eggs, the male will drive her out of the nest in fear of her eating all the eggs! The male fertilizes his eggs, and when a batch of eggs gets ready to hatch…he eats them! He does this because he wants more females to lay eggs in his nest, and females find the yellow of the eggs more attractive, and they are more likely to lay eggs next to just laid bright yellow eggs. But eggs that are close to hatching become a dark color which drives away females. After mating season, while the eggs get ready to hatch for 2-3 weeks, the male guards the nest and drives away intruders like other fish. The time the eggs hatch is usually determined by the water temperature, but the eggs always hatch at night. When the baby garibaldi’s hatch, they are called juveniles. Garibaldi’s are all orange, but juveniles are more reddish-orange and have distinct neon blue spots all over their body. All the blue disappears when the fish becomes approximately the length of 15 cm. Sometimes, I am very surprised by how aggressive and unexpected animals’ breeding can be, like the garibaldi’s. Another example of a strange breeding encounter I have witnessed is on the same trip in Hawaii while snorkeling. From the boat, I suddenly saw a group of whales swimming with each other in the water next to the boat. I immediately felt excited to be able to see this many whales together. I realized that there was 1 female, and about 3 or 4 male whales swimming together. But, as I got closer, I noticed there were cuts and scratches trailing down the males’ backs, and they were viciously fighting each other. The female looked like she was trying to swim away from the chaos, but the males kept on chasing her. I asked our guide about it. He told us that it was actually mating season for whales, and that those male whales were probably fighting each other for the female’s attention. But, the female was terrified of all the males and was trying to escape them, even though the males kept on following her no matter what she did.

The daily life of a garibaldi is very smooth. This is because it is illegal to take custody of a garibaldi without a permit given to you by the California Department of Fish and Game or Aquarium of the Pacific. But, unfortunately, some fishermen still fish or spear for garibaldi’s illegally. You might be wondering why it’s illegal to catch gari-


baldi, and it’s not because garibaldis are endangered. Actually, garibaldis are rated “Least Concern” on the endangered list. It’s because in 1995, the California State Legislature designated the garibaldi as the state marine fish! The only predators garibaldi’s have are: larger fish, sharks, seals, and sea lions. On the Santa Catalina Islands, the bald eagle is also a threat. Garibaldis usually don’t have a specific time that they eat. They often just graze around, and eat whenever they want to. These fish usually eat sponges, algae, and invertebrates. Some examples are: worms, small anemones, sponges, bryozoans, crabs, shrimps, small shellfish, and sea stars. It is suspected that the garibaldi’s bright orange pigment is due to their diet of sponges.

On my trip in Hawaii, when I was snorkeling, I saw several different sea turtles laying down on rocks at the bottom of the sea, letting fish eat the algae on their shells, and swimming around freely. I now think how so many different animals have similar things each day, even though humans classify each animal as different from each other. Sea turtles also swim around freely all day, like garibaldis. Each animal is unexpected and different from each other as well as similar.

Garibaldis can be very aggressive, especially males. Males always choose a spot to build the nest and will live there for the rest of their lives. This will be known as their territory. Garibaldis can even be found attacking fellow garibaldis if one of the fish crosses onto the other’s territory! A garibaldi male has an exact sense of where his territory ends and starts. Two garibaldi males can be found grazing two feet apart from each other as long as they are in their own territories.

Before this essay, I knew nothing about garibaldis! Now, I realize that they are extraordinary in their own way. Garibaldi’s have an amazing way of breeding, from nests to females’ behavior. Male garibaldis are especially aggressive and territorial. Even towards their own kind! Garibaldi’s have been known as the California state marine fish since 1995. These fish are extremely beautiful, but fierce. That is what I respect about them. Garibaldi’s surprised me in so many different ways. You never know what secrets an animal can hide!

You never know what secrets an animal can hide!

Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus)

When I was younger, my grandpa sometimes brought shrimp platters to celebrations. They were large, black plastic plates almost entirely covered in shrimp, except for a circular cup in the middle, containing sauce to dip them in. At first, I didn’t really like the taste of them, and then, as soon as I learned that there were so many kinds of shrimp, I thought that I should never eat them again.

The bay ghost shrimp is just one of many different species of shrimp. It is quite the extraordinary little animal. For one, it has one large claw, and one smaller claw, and it burrows through the sediment of the sea floor. While it is burrowing, it can ruin beds of baby oysters. The sandier the sediment, the slower the digging process. Cold water also slows them down.

But no need to stop for oxygen, as it can survive for six days without it. Sadly though, it is eaten by other fish, and the long-billed curlew. Humans, too, use them for bait. Despite this, they are not endangered at all. It might be because of all the eggs (usually something around 100,000) that females have, ranging in color from yellow, to orange, to red, which are carried in their abdomen. Anyway, while humans are eating shrimp, you might be wondering what the shrimp eat. The bay ghost shrimp lives on a diet of zooplankton, (very tiny little floating organisms, that are almost at the very bottom of the food chain) and detritus. So basically they eat anything that is slow enough to catch, and small enough to fit in their mouths.

They are solitary creatures, so their relatives don’t come to visit very often. Their relatives being the blue mud shrimp, and beach ghost shrimp. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t have burrow mates! When they burrow, they make a home for three species of pea crabs, two species of clams, a species of copepods, polynoid worms, and isopods. All of them live in one burrow, but there can be many exits or entrances to that burrow. Their burrows are usually made in marine sloughs, beaches, dunes, and bay flats. All in all, there is more to shrimp than the yummy orange curls on your plate.

It is quite the extraordinary little animal. For one, it has one large

My smile grew a mile wide as my hand slid off the rubbery skin of the anemone multiple times, until I started to feel a strange burning sensation.


Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica)

There was a jelly that was drifting about in the misty background. Still developing its color, I thought, “It’s A BABY!” With sparkling skin, it was as if I could see through it. The organs shone like light, illuminating the darkness all around. Unable to resist my urge to touch it, I reached out and felt a hand shaking my shoulder. “Davis, Davis!” and suddenly, I awoke.

We had arrived at the museum, and with a deep thud our car slid into a parking slot. The motor stopped abruptly, and the silence made the air seem hollow. I stared at the ancient shabby building, mold growing out of the cracks on the bricks. I thought this museum had old bones of sea creatures inside, but when I entered, I saw live sea animals.

There was a ripple of gold and silver, as the marine creatures popped their heads out to see who was coming. All of the walls had stunning paintings of the ocean and sea animals, making me feel as if I were actually swimming around, viewing exhibits while scuba diving. On my left, I saw realistic drawings of deep sea animals, like the Fangtooth, and to my right the paintings transitioned into animals that were floating on the surface of the ocean. My eyes scanned the walls until finally I was focused on a brilliantly colored jelly that was sitting still as if it were dead. ThisistheanimalinthedreamthatIjusthad! At the time I didn’t know, but the animal I was staring at was the Giant Green Sea Anemone.

The waves rush and the Giant Anemone sits, undisturbed. Fish are eaten by whales, and the Giant Anemone still sits. Great white sharks attack dolphins, but still the Giant Anemone sits. Hermit crabs dig burrows on the ocean floor, and the Giant Anemone still sits, undisturbed.

When this type of anemone matures into an adult, it rarely moves, staying where it attached earlier in life, living about 150 years. As an invertebrate, this type of Anemone has no bones, growing up to about 17 inches in length, up to 7 inches of body, and up to 10 inches of tentacles. The Giant Green Sea Anemone needs sunlight to sustain its color.

Photosynthetic cells provide nutrients and pigmentation. As a carnivorous creature, it eats crabs, mussels, small fish, and sea urchins. Hunting these animals by using the nematocysts (stinging cells) found on their tentacles to paralyze their prey before eating them, the Anemone clings onto the rock for years at a time, hoping for food. Yet sometimes, prey never comes. Some even starve to death, waiting for their dinner. But Anemones that have the ability to wait for a long time, receive their food instead of scouting around and getting eaten because of poor swimming skills. This tactic is essential since it can catch prey when they come by, efficiently use energy, and keep a lookout for predators.

The Giant Green Sea Anemone is nocturnal, living in intertidal zones from Alaska south, potentially as far as Panama. The solitary animal can form groups. Sometimes, it attacks other jellies living with it in order to protect its eggs.

I reached my hand into the open-topped, mini glass aquarium just as I had yearned to in my dream, and this time I actually felt its soft skin giving me a contented feeling. My smile grew a mile wide as my hand slid off the rubbery skin of the anemone multiple times, until I started to feel a strange burning sensation. I knew this was the anemone’s defense mechanism, so I took my hand away, and instead leaned on the glass to get a closer look. It was attached to a jagged piece of stone, and didn’t move for five minutes straight. A colorful starfish glided over, opening its gigantic mouth, which made my heart stop for a second. With a huge gulp, the struggling anemone entered the mouth of the starfish.


Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera)

When you first look at a piece of giant kelp, you might not think much of it. At first glance, it’s just a big brown tube with bumpy leaves on it. But it’s much more than that. If you look closer, you see the twisty pyramid-shaped holdfast clinging to the sea floor, the stem-like stipe reaching over 100 feet tall, the gas-filled pneumatocysts holding it afloat, and the bumpy blades growing off them. You might also see the intricate ecosystem that giant kelp houses, from otters to crabs to snails. All sorts of creatures take shelter in the blades, and some even hide in the holdfast. Dead kelp provides food for deep sea-dwelling creatures, as it floats to the ocean floor just as leaves fall from a tree. Giant kelp is also one of the fastest growing species in the world, even faster than bamboo. In the bay it grows 10-12 inches each day, and in ideal conditions it could reach up to 175 feet tall!

Giant kelp grows in dense patches along the west coast from Alaska all the way to Baja California, creating kelp forests. It can also be found in Mexico, New Zealand, and parts of Australia. Giant kelp often grows in moving waters, which bring it new nutrients as it sways in the ocean like a wind chime sways in the breeze. It typically grows in cool, relatively shallow waters. Kelp forests are cities, with tall buildings that reach towards the clouds and many places for creatures to live and stay safe. A whole ecosystem, thriving off one plant: Giant kelp. Each plant can live about eight years, but most only grow to be around five. When winter comes, it dies off leaving only its gnarled holdfast behind, like a gravestone. However, once winter’s cold whisper fades away, the kelp starts to grow back, the tip of each blade separating into tiny new ones.

Along with bullwhip kelp, rockweed, and many more, giant kelp is a brown seaweed, and belongs to the phylum of Phaeophyta. It uses photosynthesis like a plant, but it’s a kind of algae. It doesn’t have a root system either, although the holdfast may look like one. The holdfast’s purpose is to anchor the kelp to the seafloor, up to 100 feet below the surface! Little gas-filled pods called pneumatocysts at the base of each blade hold the kelp upright, towards the sunlight. Once it reaches the surface, it starts growing horizontally, creating huge carpets of kelp floating in the ocean. At night, sea otters wrap themselves in these mats to keep from floating away.

Giant kelp doesn’t just help marine animals. It attracts fish, which humans, as well as other species, eat. It is also harvested by humans as a source of alginate, a product that is put into things such as food and cosmetics as a thickening agent. But don’t worry, kelp isn’t harvested straight from the forests. Instead, people grow kelp in certain areas specifically for harvesting. Despite that, giant kelp still faces threats from all sorts of things. Sewage dumped near giant kelp prevents it from growing further. Pollution, climate change, boating, and habitat destruction are also important to the health of giant kelp. Sea urchins eat kelp, but since the population of their natural predators, sea otters, is rapidly declining, they are becoming overpopulated and eating too much kelp.

I haven’t actually seen giant kelp before in real life, but I realized that there is so much we can learn from giant kelp, or any species for that matter, without ever seeing it in person. Sure, it doesn’t have feelings and doesn’t do much more than sit there and grow. But it provides shelter for so many different species, and all sorts of creatures utilize it for different purposes, including us. Each person is kind of like a piece of giant kelp, rooted to the ground with their holdfast, but held up by other people like pneumatocysts. It teaches us to be like the gas-filled pneumatocysts, to help hold other people up when they need it. It teaches us to be like the twisted holdfast, to stay strong even through the hardest times. It teaches us to be like the long stipe, always reaching further. It teaches us to be like the crinkly blades that protect so many species from harm. So next time you look at a seemingly boring species, look a little closer.


When winter comes, it dies off leaving only its gnarled holdfast behind, like a gravestone. However, once winter’ s cold whisper fades away, the kelp starts to grow back, the tip of each blade separating into tiny new ones.

Octopuses are just like humans in many ways.

Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)

My first connection to octopuses was a stuffie. I now have over 10 of these octopus stuffies. The main reason I am writing about this is because of them. Those stuffies are so cute with big smiles on their faces. Most of them are blue, pink, or black with a fluffy topside and a bottom with a thick band of roughness. Like real octopuses, they can be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand to as big as a 6-year-old. Another way I experienced octopuses at a young age was by eating them. While growing up, I often went to Japan and of course, ate some sushi, some of which was octopus sushi. Although I honestly did not like it very much, it made me realize that although they could be cute, they are not just furry stuffies.

But the truth is that the giant pacific octopus is bigger than my stuffies or me. They can sometimes be as heavy as 120 lbs! That is even heavier than the average human! Imagine being next to that octopus as big as a house! Octopuses are just like humans in many ways. One of them is that they are highly intelligent creatures. For example, during the movie My Octopus Teacher, the octopus uses shells to hide from a passing shark. There are also many videos on the internet of octopuses opening jars from the inside. Giant pacific octopuses can sometimes even eat sharks, but they are still nice to humans. They can make friends with their keepers at the aquarium. Additionally, each individual has a unique set of qualities, such as being friendly or just liking to eat certain things. They are described as being “both slippery and velvety at the same time,” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

One of the Giant Pacific Octopus’s main predators is humans. They mainly live near the pacific coast, for example in California, Alaska, and Japan. They also tend to live in between boulders that they turn into dens, as they can squeeze into tiny spaces like water itself. Their diet consists mainly of fish, lobsters, and clams which they kill using their toxic saliva. Another thing about giant pacific octopuses is that they have a hard beak; just like a parrot or other birds. Also, each of the octopus’s eight legs contains its own brain; like each leg has a mind of its own. Another cool fact is that they also have 3 hearts. Although octopuses are currently not endangered, they may still be harmed by pollution and a lack of prey. In Japan, I was surprised to be told that many octopuses are found with multiple missing legs. The main theory behind this is that they are eating their own legs because they are so hungry. Another cause might be overfishing. Global octopus production has more than doubled since 1980 from about 180,000 tons to 370,000 tons a year, which may have impacted populations all over the world. Octopuses also sometimes get caught in fishing nets trying to take advantage of the already-caught fish but often get caught themselves in the process.


Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

As we walk through the Monterey Bay Area Aquarium halls, extravagant fish and jellyfish swim around us. My family is heading for a balcony with telescopes lined on one side, looking at the ocean. On the other end of the walkway was the exit. I ask, “Why are we heading this way?” “Are we leaving?” I ask.

“No,” my mom says, smiling. We walk out onto the balcony and look through the telescopes facing the ocean. Suddenly, a whale blow shoots out of their blowhole, and the top of a whale’s head peeks out, like a submarine periscope.

My brother, Alexander, shouts, “A gray whale!”

“That’s right,” Dad replies. Ever since that time, gray whales have interested me.

Gray whales are an animal that migrates; when they do, their calves grow on 22 kg of milk daily. They migrate 12,000 miles yearly, from arctic seas to Mexican lagoons and back. The journey is the longest migration of any mammal! While migrating, gray whales swim at a fast, steady speed of 4.8 to 9.6 km per hour, almost the walking speed of humans. Imagine walking 12,000 miles in two weeks. That is like walking the Appalachian trail six times over. They live up to 60 meters under the surface and stay .5 to 166 km from land. At birth, gray whale calves weigh anywhere from 500-600 kg. Gray whales have babies one at a time. Calves are only nursed for 6-7 months by their mothers after birth. Wild gray whales live for 25-80 years, which is about the human lifespan. They are nicknamed “the devil fish” for their aggressive reaction after being harpooned. They suck sediment and food from the sandy seafloor by rolling onto their sides and swimming slowly. This method filters their food through 130 to 180 coarse plates on both the left and right sides of their upper jaw. Talk about thoroughness! Also, most people think whales are friendly and cute because most whales do not attack us except killer whales. Gray whales can be seen at Monterey Bay Aquarium and in most of Monterey. They live along most of the pacific ocean. Gray whales mostly stay separate or in small packs except for feeding grounds.

The patches of white on gray whales’ bumpy skins are from barnacles and whale lice over the whales’ lifetimes. Gray whales can simultaneously hold up to 400 pounds of whale lice and barnacles! Imagine that. Two grown humans pull you down as you swim. Gray whales, despite their nickname, are very friendly to people. Gray whales only eat plankton, shellfish, fish, and worms. It’s crazy that a giant gray whale eats small plankton-sized animals rather than many smaller sea creatures like octopuses and sharks, while other whale species eat kinds of squid and fish.

Gray whales only have two main predators: humans, and killer whales, both of which are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain. Gray whales are in the second highest level of the food chain. However, as I mentioned earlier, gray whales do not eat anything more significant than fish. They are friendly to humans and other large sea creatures, unlike some other types of whales, like killer whales.

However, gray whales were losing population even though they did not have many predators before the law in 1970, which started protecting them from being poached for their blubber, bones, and sometimes meat. Afterward, though, the population grew up to around 26,000! Today the number stays around 22,000. As climate change picks up, gray whales will struggle to survive. That is why we need to help them. Regarding scientific classification, Gray whales are in the phylum Chordata, the class Mammalia, the order Cetartiodactyla, the family Eschrichtiidae, and the genus and species Eschrichtius robustus. The gray whale is the sole living species in the genus Eschrichtius. That is one reason they must stay a thriving and healthy species.


Helping stop climate change will help gray whales thrive, and since whales can store tons of carbon in their bodies, they could help us back. Carbon naturally gets stored in a gray whale’s body during its life. On average, the gray whale has stored 33 tons of carbon dioxide by the time they die. When the whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, and that carbon is no longer in the atmosphere for centuries. Gray whales act like a cage for carbon dioxide. Gray whales also need to survive because they are the last living species of their genus. Eight million tons of litter gets dumped into the ocean every year, and cigarette butts are the most common thing found there. So stopping littering and smoking will also significantly affect marine life, including whales. Another way you can help gray whales is if you’re ever on a boat, you should watch out for whales and warn the captain. One of the main ways whales die is when they crash into boats. Yet another way to help gray whales is to minimize underwater sound because it throws off their echolocation (their way to communicate underwater) and makes it hard for them to communicate if one is in trouble. All in all, they are cool, intelligent animals that have the potential to change the world. Go, gray whales!

All in all, they are cool, intelligent animals that have the potential to change the world. Go, gray whales!

If we restore the Bay wetlands, we can see more great blue herons. Like us, great blue herons need clean water to survive. A great blue heron thrives around all water. Great blue herons can be seen standing by lakeshores. The great blue heron is similar to humans because sometimes, to get things we have to be patient.


Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The first time I saw a great blue hero it was standing still in the water, so fragile it looked as if it was floating on ice. So patient and still like an illusion. My uncle stood next to me as the click of a camera snapped me out of my daydream. We waited a few more minutes. Then, as if in slow motion, it lifted off into flight, the great big wings flapping, as if pushing away bad feelings. I just learned that a great blue heron can grow up to the size of 6ft. When the great blue heron is flying, it tucks its head into its body with the neck bent, like a person nodding up and down. Great blue herons have specialized feathers on their chest that grow and fray. They are blue and gray with a black stripe over the eye.

Watching a great blue heron fly is like watching a slow-motion video, their wingbeats like leisurely wooshes. Like us, great blue herons need clean water to survive. One interesting feature is that a great blue heron has its head hunched back on its shoulders. I used to live close to the Bay Trail where I could see the sandpipers and lots of shorebirds and shallow water waders.

Did you know that the average lifespan of a great blue heron in the wild is fifteen years? The oldest known great blue heron was found in Texas when it was about 24 years old. The group name for a great blue heron is a Colony. Great blue heron’s nest in colonies called heronries. There are about 600 great blue heron pairs that nest around San Francisco Bay. The white form of the great blue heron is the Great White Heron found in Florida.

Like us, great blue herons need clean water to survive. Great blue herons are carnivores; they eat mostly fish but also have a very adaptive diet; they can eat frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, insects, rodents and even other birds. Did you know that Herons eat mostly diseased fish that would have died shortly after?

Great blue herons can quickly strike prey at a distance. Great blue herons in the NE U.S. and southern Canada have benefitted from the health of beaver populations, which have created a group of swamps and meadows available for foraging and nesting. Great blue herons can hunt day and night.

If we restore the Bay wetlands, we can see more great blue herons. The great blue heron’s eggs are a pale blue color; they usually have 3-5 eggs, sometimes 2-7 at a time. A great blue heron thrives around all water. Great blue herons can be seen standing by lakeshores. A great blue heron’s adult body on average is about 3.2 to 4.5 feet. The wingspan is anywhere from 5.5 to 6.6 feet.

The great blue herons represent patience by the way they hunt. When they hunt, they stand still in water and strike the prey with their beaks. This reflects patience because they are waiting for fish or other prey to come by, and they have to stand very still. The great blue heron is similar to humans because sometimes, to get things we have to be patient. But the great blue heron is also very different from us because of the appearance of it.


Great Horned Owl (Bubo

I just came back from summer vacation. As I walk into class, everyone turns their heads to see who came in. It was like they couldn’t move their eyes. During attendance, they turn their heads to see, as if they were Great Horned Owls, searching for their prey. Great Horned Owls can’t move their eyes either. They need to rotate their heads all the way around.

As I listen to the teacher, I hear little whispers of chatting at the back of the room. I hear every word, even though I am at the front of the room. It is like I am an owl for a moment, hearing a mouse squeak from far away.

As I raise my hand, the two people who are chatting stop talking. The teacher calls on me. I say that the two kids in the back were babbling. The teacher doesn’t believe me and moves on to another student who was waiting patiently. Harumph! As I was about to nab the two chattering mice, they scampered away. The class continued. A group discussion ensued. It was like a bunch of agitated crows cawing, mobbing me, preventing me from grabbing those two naughty critters.

Usually crows harass me for hours, but this felt like days! Class after class, the mice kept talking and the other creatures kept besieging me. Most of the time, I’m very quiet and I just pay attention to the class. Like the Great Horned Owl, whose feathers are a flourish of brown and black with a tiny splash of white, blending into its background of trees and bushes, I blend into the class. I raised my hand again and everyone stopped talking. Time seemed to stop. My eyes must have given me away to the mice and the other animals. Bright yellow is the one way to get seen!

Every single class, I kept swooping down to grab those two pesky mice. But every single time, I missed them as they skittered away. They must have somehow heard the flap of my wings, even with my special feathers that don’t make a sound. The flap of my wings are silent because I have special feathers that don’t make sound. I also do a lot of gliding, which minimizes the sound.

My eggs need care, so I swoop back to the nest, 4 white eggs, nearly spherical. I have to get food. Even though I just laid them in one month, they will hatch hungry. I stay for a bit to make sure no predators are around. I live in a nice backyard and nobody disturbs me. I live in an old oak tree. My nest is lined with shreds of bark, leaves, fur of prey, and trampled pellets. My nest doesn’t smell the best with the pellets and all, but it’s home to me. After I am done, I return to hunting those little rascals.

At the very last class, I finally caught them. I told the teacher what they were doing. They didn’t stop talking because they thought I gave up. They were scolded for not listening, and the teacher took their laptops. I finally caught the mice, and I got an osprey as well, swooping and dive bombing with my beak and extended claws that are 4-8 inches long. It’s the end of the school day and I feel great. This owl is amazing. I wonder, will those kids chat tomorrow?

They turn their heads to see, as if they were Great Horned Owls, searching for their prey.

Speaking of movies, one of the most famous movies is Jaws. The movie Jaws is a movie about a Great White Shark who kills a woman and the after-effects, but this movie may have actually directed


Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

It was the winter of 2018 that my family finally took me out of ski school. After years and years of going down the tiny, annoying little “bunny hill”, I would finally get to go down the big, long slopes with my family. It was paradise, but I didn’t know that in 4 years, I would be going down the exact same slope, only 10 times faster. It would be four years later that I would be getting comments from people asking, “How old are you?”

The Great White Shark can go up to 35 miles per hour. Which is like slowly going down a slope when all of the sudden the greatest alpine skier of all time flies by you. Great White Sharks can go this fast because they have strong, powerful tails that can propel them through the water, unfortunately Great Whites can’t stop swimming because then, water won’t be able to pass through their gills causing them to suffocate. In comparison a very beginner skier won’t be able to stop. That’s why Great White Sharks have to swim in their sleep. These Great Whites usually grow to about 15 feet in length and 7 feet in width.

Great White Sharks have more than an unimaginable amount of triangle shaped teeth that move like conveyor belts, they fill in quickly after the shark loses the teeth, and although they have so many teeth, they don’t even chew their prey, they rip it into bite sized pieces and swallow the pieces whole which is why movies are sometimes wrong when there is a scene about a shark attack. Speaking of movies, one of the most famous movies is Jaws. The movie Jaws is a movie about a Great White Shark who kills a woman and the after-effects, but this movie may have actually directed humans down the wrong path about the real truth of Great White Sharks. Great White Sharks don’t have humans on their food list. The 100+ Great White attacks happen annually because sharks don’t see a human correctly, and they mistake humans for seals or other things that Great White Sharks do eat.

Great White Sharks in the wild are classified as vulnerable, which means they are endangered and if the current death rate of these animals continues, they could be close to extinction. The population of great white sharks is slowly growing smaller because, illegal hunting, Illegal poaching, catching and accidental killing, nets placed along beaches to keep sharks away, pollution and heavy metals that build up in the shark’s body. These are all contributing to the deaths of many Great White Sharks. In some areas, if not already gone, the great white shark population has plummeted over 70 percent.

Some fun facts about Great White Sharks are that they existed before the dinosaurs, the largest one ever was found in Mexico and they have existed even before the dinosaurs, their ancestry dates back over four hundred years ago. As apex predators in the wild, Great White Sharks have a sixth sense of electromagnetism and can roll protective films over their eyes to protect themselves from an attack. They are made of cartilage which is what our noses and ears are made of and to end it off, they never use their tongue for anything.

There are many things you can conclude from this essay. The first thing, Great White Sharks are very cool, apex predators with many features, and the second thing is that Great White Sharks should not be hunted because they are vital to the ecosystem and are an endangered species. If you do end up hunting them, you’ll have to pay a fine of about $20,000.


Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

My foot hits the gravel as we hike up a hill, overlooking the coast. We are at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Tall trees stretch into the sky, located on a semi circle shape. In that circle is a large beach with bluegreen foamy water flowing onto the sand. Soon, we would see a hundred seals, scattered around the beach. It was birthing season for the seals, so there would be babies and adults. I remember walking across the path, head craned over the edge, looking at the seals. We walked a couple of miles, stopping every so often to watch the mammals. Because it was birthing time for seals, you were rarely allowed to speak. The mother’s would get spooked, splash into the water and leave their newborn pups to fend for themselves.

The harbor seal is a large mammal that spends a lot of time in the water. They are shaped like a potato, often gray with dots that look like rocks. The spots help them blend in with their surroundings because of their predators. Bears and other creatures that roam the shores are always interested in the seals. Because they don’t have ears or hands like we do, harbor seals use their whiskers to sense the world around them. Their large, black, marble-like eyes don’t do a great deal on land, however underwater, they can see up to 100 meters around them. The coat of the harbor seal is slick so they can glide in the water. Their coat is also thick and insulated, to prevent them from freezing in the water. Some harbor seals live in colder and snowy climates, like the arctic. Those seals often have white fur over their pelt, so they can camouflage and stay warm. Harbor seals can spend up to one hour in the water, and sometimes more, catching their prey, which is a diet of fishes, squid, octopus and crustaceans. 34,000 seals live on the beaches and wildlife reserves of California, protected by the Marine Mammal Act made on October 21, 1972. Unlike sea lions, harbor seals rarely communicate on land, however, they do make many sounds underwater. The harbor seal pup can follow its mother into the water within 5 minutes of birth. While the pup may not be able to swim, it can still lie next to its mother, being pushed around.

The harbor seal is a wonderous being, dominating the stretch of ocean seas. There is no other experience that could compare to watching these graceful mammals dip and dive, splashing between the rolling waves, disappearing into foam. Now, only these animals can feel that. Only these animals will feel the cool ocean as they swim under the waves for a length of time. You may argue that humans can , and you’re not wrong, only we can’t feel the ocean under our big black wet suits that cover us from the cold. That semicircle of seals, keeping us away not being able to fully see them, watch them up close, only look from a far but in a way, that is better.


The harbor seal is a wonderous being, dominating the stretch of ocean seas. There is no other experience that could compare to watching these graceful mammals dip and dive, splashing between the rolling


Hopkin’s Rose Nudibranch (Okenia


When I was in 1st grade, my family and I went to Moss Beach, which is right next to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. It was the perfect time to go. The tide was low, and we still had a lot of sunlight left. We walked down the gravel path, to the beach. We saw a bunch of Harbor Seals wiggling up the shore. The seals were so cute! Their coats were white, brown, or gray speckled with black dots. But, you can’t get within 300 feet of the pups because you don’t want to cause them stress. We leaped over the stream to the rocks where the tide pools were. Algae was everywhere. We had to be careful when stepping around, otherwise we could slip. I still ran around, excited to see all the hermit crabs, snails, and anemone. I gently touched a sunburst anemone. It felt slightly sticky, and the tentacles followed my fingers as they brushed it. The tips of the tentacles were a bright yellow, like the sun. In the middle were lines, all ending in the center of the circle. As I was scanning around, I saw a slug-like animal with two eyestalks. It was tiny, about 1 inch long, and transparent! It had bright and vibrant colors and looked like spikes from a porcupine. The unique colors and the funny looking spikes made me take a liking to it. The sun was setting, and it was getting late. We went back, and I searched “slug-looking thing with bright colors” and I found it was a nudibranch!

Another encounter was when we went to Telluride to go skiing. I went on the Gold Hill Express up to the very top of the mountain. I really wanted to go on a double black for the first time, but I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know how the run looked, or how hard it was, but I pretended I was a nudibranch, to adapt to whatever came at me. I went down the piste. There were trees everywhere! There was barely any time to think about a path, it was too steep. I slowed down just in time to miss a tree. I flew down, turning my skis at every bump. I finally made it down. It was easier than I thought!

The Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch has many unique adaptations. Nudibranchs have given up the protection of a hard shell in their adult stage, and instead they use other defense mechanisms to protect their soft bodies. They use hooked teeth to reach into the group of bryozoans and pull out the individual zooid. The food they eat helps them camouflage with the ocean floor. They look like frilly pieces of bubble gum and are carnivorous, which is different from other Nudibranchs. It has multiple cerata sprouting out, and it looks like Medusa’s head, but with smaller snakes. It senses its surroundings with its rhinophores, which are two sensory organs in the front. It detects chemicals in the water that are used to find food and detect predators. It can also be used to communicate with other nudibranchs by sending chemical signals. But don’t touch them! The bright colors warn predators that they are poisonous. Some nudibranchs are harmless to humans, but they may consider you a predator and sting.

The Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch gets its stunning color from a special type of bryozoan (also known as moss animals) called Integripeltabilabiata, which has a pigment called hopkinsaxanthin that gives it its pink hue. This carotenoid was unknown to science before the discovery in the tissue of this species. A carotenoid is a coloring on the nudibranch. Some common carotenoids that we eat are tomatoes, watermelon, and corn. This pink coloring helps it camouflage with its surroundings. It lives in the intertidal zone, where you have a tide pool. Without food, the Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch would lose its color and would be filled by other bryozoans, hydra, or sponge that would not normally fill the pink bryozoans niche. The nudibranch clings to a rock and uses its radula to suck its food up. It sucks up one zooid (individual bryozoan) at a time. The shape of the radula is unique in this family. The middle tooth is large and elongated, ending in a hook-like tip. The lateral teeth are small and are actually reduced to a rudimentary plate. The cool thing is that they modified their teeth to look like little crochet hooks.

Another cool thing about the nudibranch is that it can mate with any Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch it finds. Nudibranchs are picky eaters, so you could find another of the same species in the same feeding area, making it easy to find a mate. When they reproduce, both nudibranchs can lay eggs. They deposit their pink eggs in an outside


to inside counter-clockwise ribbon-like spiral on hard surfaces like rock. The pink eggs come from the bryozoans they eat. The number of eggs varies; it can be as few as just 1 or 2 eggs, or as many as an estimated 25 million eggs, but they typically lay 500 eggs. The eggs then hatch into microscopic larvae that float passively until they are swept into a warm shallow tidal zone. There they settle to the bottom of a pool and grow into showy but stationary adults that live for about a year.

The Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch also can ingest and reuse stinging cells from their prey. After the nudibranch eats the tentacles of a jellyfish, anemone, coral, or other stinging animal, the stolen stinging cells pass through the digestive gland, which is the gray section in each ceras. They wind up in the cnidosacs, where they are stored until they are needed for defense. These cells hold the nematocysts prisoner until the nudibranch needs to ward off a potential predator. Should the slug sense an attack, the stolen nematocysts are squeezed out of the cerata, and either disarm or deter the attacker.

The Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch is not endangered, but it is being affected by climate change. It is a canary in the tide pool. They like warm waters, so more of them are blooming. Their habitat is being moved more north. Before, finding the Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch was rare in northern California, but now, there are hundreds of them. In the future, climate change may make the water warm and acidic, so less adaptable fish would be replaced by soft-bodied invertebrates like jellyfish, nudibranchs, squid, and starfish. The larval migration is largely up to ocean currents and upwelling on the central California coast. Winds that blow from the north and trap warm water near the equator slackened, and warm equatorial water moved back up north. Under normal conditions, the same winds also push away surface water and churn up deep, cold, nutrient-rich water from down below.

Whenever I see a nudibranch, I think about its amazing ability to adapt to its harsh and dynamic environment, to steal stinging cells and camouflage. You have to adapt and change to succeed in life, to figure out problems and respond to challenges. Maybe you could take the Hopkin’s Rose nudibranch’s advice, and start to adapt.

The Hopkin’ s Rose nudibranch also can ingest and reuse stinging cells from their prey. After the nudibranch eats the tentacles of a jellyfish, anemone, coral, or other stinging animal, the stolen stinging cells pass through the digestive gland, which is the gray section in each ceras.
The Ithuriel’s spear is resilient, and strong enough to be able to grow in many places with certain soils.

Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia

I have many flowers in my backyard, some are purple and shaped like Ithuriel’s spear. Peering through the windows of my house, I feel a happy sense of calm as I admire the beauty of nature. That’s one of the first things I notice when I look at my backyard. Except for the dying yellow grass. Unfortunately, I don’t have the Ithuriel’s spear in my backyard. Whenever I look at some garden beds, though, I am reminded of the flowers and other plants that my family and I planted together. Some of those plants are actually quite similar to the Ithuriel’s spear.

Ithuriel’s spear is purple, and purple is usually a symbol of royalty or luxury, based on the fact that purple is a rare color. The points of each petal are sharp, like a broken pen that spreads ink, leaking from the tip. They have six pointed star shaped petals, just like a six sided dice. Unfortunately, the flower does not look like a star or a six sided dice. Although, that would be quite funny. In some ways, they are very similar to other flowers, including dandelions. They reproduce themselves by spreading black seeds. Just the way dandelions spread their seeds when the wind blows, scattering them across the surfaces.

On top of that, the Ithuriel’s spear is resilient, and strong enough to be able to grow in many places with certain soils. In fact, they can grow in places and soils other plants can not grow; for instance, clay soil. They adapt to their surroundings, the way animals do over time. They sprout up like weeds, growing in almost any condition, in most weather.

As they continue to grow and change over the years, many tribes have continued to come up with new common names for the Ithuriel’s spear. Its scientific name is Triteleia Laxa. But it also goes by many other names, including; Brodiaea Laxa, the previous scientific name, grassnut, indian potato, deer potato, highland potato, etc. On top of that, the Ithuriel’s spear grows in clay soil, which is a very difficult soil that most plants cannot grow in. Also, the corm of the flower is a fruit capsule, and is edible, though it is related to the Themidaceae family(the lily family). The name Ithuriel was also included as a character in the poem Paradise Lost, by John Milton.

It grows up to 15-28 inches, or 37-70 cm tall. They grow back each year, so you don’t need to plant them time and time again. They grow at elevations from 0-4600 feet, and multiple insects (mostly when planted in bee or butterfly gardens) are attracted to the Ithuriel’s Spear. They are geophytes, and studies say they are related to lilies and onions. The plant is grown easily by planting corms, and some of the corms were eaten by many california tribes. The plant is open for a month or more, before closing in the summer.

Imagine if you were ever going to plant these flowers in your gardens. They are undemanding, are tolerant of the drought, and are very beautiful and adaptable. The flowers are surprisingly easy to grow, and grow in so many places. They are often found in heavy soils, open forests, mixed conifer or foothill woodlands, and grasslands on clay soils. They grow in light, sandy, fertile, well drained soils in full sun or part shade. Also, they are basically disease free and pest free. Lastly, it is a common native perennial herb from the Themidaceae family(the lily family).

The Ithuriel’s spear is a great plant. Think of the places they grow. Think of the pollination they spread. Think of a six sided dice. Of a field of purple, row after row after row. Think of dandelions and stars. Think of a pen leaking ink, spreading everywhere.


Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata)

Did you know that leopard sharks can be seven feet long? It’s crazy that this is their average length when the tallest human ever was just nine feet tall! Leopard Sharks are beautiful animals. They live usually around the floor of the shallow parts of the ocean, at 40-65 feet deep. Humans with diving licenses can only go to around 130 feet, but most stay around 20-30.

These leopard sharks can go much faster and deeper than these humans, swimming at twice the pace, with the ability to dive up to 300 feet deep. I once met a leopard shark on the coast of California in Santa Barbara when my family was taking a boat trip. They were swimming around the boat, splashing around and trying to catch fish. I remember thinking how amazing it was to see that. When I was really little, I used to go to the museum, where they had a lot of small leopard sharks swimming in their little habitat. I loved watching these docile creatures float by in their humble home of the tank. Leopard sharks are in the Triakidae family, and their scientific name is Triakis semifasciata. The genus Triakis means “three-pointed,” referring to their three pointed teeth. They are some of the most interesting species on the coast of California. Though they are not endangered, the leopard shark population is slowly decreasing due to the fact that humans use their fins to make shark fin soup, a primary food source for its nutrients.

Leopard sharks also have a sixth and seventh sense. One is the ampullae of lorenzini, which helps them detect animals that have electromagnetic fields. Sharks can detect these fields up to three feet away, which is just enough to snatch up a meal that might be hiding. Another cool fact is that the leopard sharks are sometimes called cat sharks, because they look like long cats. They prefer cool and warm temperate waters, though they can survive 4-6 minutes without water. A leopard shark has a mouth on the flat underside of its head, and it opens downward, making it easy to pick up crabs, clam siphons, fish eggs, and flat innkeeper worms living on the bottom of the sea. Some leopard sharks have even been found with smoothhound sharks, bat rays, and octopuses in their stomachs.

Though most fish reproduce by laying eggs, a leopard shark mother is more similar to a human mother. She keeps her eggs inside her body until they hatch. After 10 to 12 months of being pregnant, a leopard shark mother gives birth to a litter of 7 to 36 pups, each approximately 18 cm long. Grown Leopard Sharks sometimes even eat their babies, and shark mothers do not stick around to raise their young.

The beautiful creatures have two dorsal fins, which are the tall things sticking out of the water whenever they are swimming on the surface of the ocean. They also have two triangular pectoral fins, which are the fins on the bottom of their body. Their tails are tapered, which means that their tail splits into two parts at the end.

I really appreciate the fact that leopard sharks are an animal on earth, not only because they are beautiful and help the food chains and regulation of the water, they also are just plain really cool to see and that is amazing!


Leopard sharks are in the Triakidae family, and their scientific name is Triakis semifasciata. The genus Triakis means “three-pointed, referring to their three pointed teeth.

The little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, teaches us to be flexible and try something new.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)

Every morning when I wake up, I feel tired. I envy little brown bats. They are nocturnal, and they get to sleep for 20 hours a day, if not more. They sleep in roosts, which can be anything a group of bats sleeps in. There are three types of roosts: day, night, and hibernation. A day roost is in a building or tree. A night roost is smaller so that the bats can keep warm. A hibernation roost is used in hibernation.

Myotislucifugus find their prey using echolocation. Echolocation is when the bat makes a really high pitched sound. Then, the sound bounces off of objects like trees, or rocks, and judging by where the sound bounced off of, they can decide if it’s prey or not. Bats eat small bugs. Their favorite are mosquitoes. I’m glad we have these bats, for if we did not, we would be dealing with many more mosquitoes than we are now.

Little brown bats can be many different colors of brown, like tree bark. There are also a few albino bats, like there are a few white-barked trees. The fur on their bellies is lighter than elsewhere, like the wood of a tree is usually lighter than the bark. These bats are in the group “mouse-eared bats”. Their ears look like mouse ears and are equally tiny. Their whole wingspan is about as big as a banana. They’re really small!

These bats move around a lot. They are very flexible creatures, and can find new places to live if something happens to their old homes. The little brown bat also doesn’t know about the weather. We know if there is going to be strong winds or lots of rain, but the bats are somewhat clueless. A gust of wind might knock them out of a tree, or they might have to build a place to shelter in the strong rain. These bats are very flexible and ready.

I have never seen one of these bats, or any bats, but I feel excited to know that some have been spotted close to my house. I also have never heard the sound these bats make. I have learned that it sounds somewhat like a high pitched “click”. I sometimes like to imagine I’m one of these bats, and hang upside down from a tree or monkey bars, and pretend to make a clicking noise.

Little brown bats are as swift as a jet. They can fly up to 22 miles per hour, but usually stick to 12 miles per hour. They fly alone or in groups of up to 20 bats. Little brown bats have to blend in with the tree bark or fly really fast when escaping predators like cats, owls, and raccoons.

The little brown bat is a truly amazing species. It has adapted to different places and weather, finds its prey with echolocation, and looks interesting. The way these little bats survive these conditions is something we can try, too. If you’re very busy or are feeling down, I have one piece of advice. Well, it’s not from me. The little brown bat, Myotis Lucifugus, teaches us to be flexible and try something new.


Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)

As I dove into the cold, shocking water, I felt a surge of strength in my body. People were screaming all around me, and water was splashing everywhere. I reminded myself of everything Coach had told us. High elbows, dolphin kicks off the wall until the backstroke flags; don’t breathe every three strokes. We swam back and forth, once, then finished. It was a quick race, my 50 freestyle. I love to swim, especially at meets–screaming, splashing, and fun! I usually attend swim meets with my friends, and if we’re in the same event, we compare our times to see who improved and who was faster. We would even tell each other who the most exhausted or tired was, but we were all always so tired and hungry after a long, 5-hour meet. But if the tiny long-tailed weasel participated in our exhausting ‘competitions’, it would beat us all. They can swim all the way across reservoirs and not tire out!

In addition to being an excellent swimmer, the long-tailed weasel’s strengths lie in its agility and fearlessness, especially against larger animals. Sometimes, that tactic can end up getting them killed…oops. Longtailed weasels have a long, black-tipped tail that helps them balance and move easily, soft fur, and a small head with adorable round eyes. Don’t let those eyes fool you, though! They’re vicious animals and will stop at nothing to reach their food, including slinking through tiny gaps the size of a wedding ring to get inside of chicken pens! They go on massive killing sprees, slaughtering whole coops of chickens. Long-tailed weasels are also incredibly fast, a tiny little bolt of lightning. They can run at 25 mph!

And get this–they kill all the chickens, but they only actually eat one or two! Really, they’re like those squirrels in my backyard who pick more fruits than they can eat. They also adapt to different seasons, like winter by changing the color of their usually brown coat to white, as do leaves changing colors from green to red in the fall. I think adapting to different situations this way is so cool! Wouldn’t it be great if humans could that easily and naturally camouflage to blend in with our surroundings?

Also, did you know that long-tailed weasels are actually endangered? Yeah, people place weasel traps in their chicken coops and where weasels go to feast, and it traps them and they die. They’re also so small that they sometimes get run over when they are walking across the road. Sadly, there aren’t any movements to bring back the weasels…Many people actually think that all weasels should be killed because they eat chickens and other birds. But it’s actually better to conserve every different species, because it’s more natural for our ecosystem. Even if weasels could be the cause of killing many different birds, that’s only part of our natural world.

Just a few hours ago, I was asked to compete in a swim championship meet of the season for a relay race. I was so proud of myself! This made me think of the long-tailed weasel, who resiliently fights the battles and challenges along the journey of its life, like big, scary predators, or giant reservoirs just to get food. This inspires me to think of how the long-tailed weasel, this tiny, cute animal, can fight through these challenges and stay alive, when survival is the toughest thing. And I think this reminds you to be tough, remember what you came for, and be able to adapt. These are some of the most important things in life. We should learn from the things and creatures around us, just like the long-tailed weasel, and apply their lessons to our own lives. We can all be amazing, if we only took the time to notice.

We should learn from the things and creatures around us, just like the long-tailed weasel, and apply their lessons to our own lives.

The way I view the Mission Blue is probably the way I view all endangered animals. The fact that these amazingly rare animals are still surviving out there,


Mission Blue Butterfly

(Icaricia icarioides missionensis)

A tiny, fragile rodent skull on my desk would typically be crushed within a day or two by the other messy clutter. And yet it has still survived.

I got this little rodent companion during the summer of 2022, as I dissected owl pellets. It was a summer camp, more of a one-day session. Owl pellets are undigested parts of the owl’s food that owls spit out, and it consists of fur and bones from the prey of the owl. (Don’t worry, the pellets were sanitized.) They are usually grayish-brown, like the fur of the owl’s lunch. We were trying to pull out the bones in the pellets, but they were quite fragile and very breakable. I managed to pull out the skull of a vole and a vertebra of an I don’t know what. That afternoon, I got back to my house and opened up my computer, which was when I first learned about the Mission Blue Butterfly.

The Mission Blue Butterfly is, as of the beginning of 2023, federally endangered. It has been endangered for quite a while, being very small and hard to find and generally tread over by human feet a lot. It lives on three species of lupine, the silver lupine, the summer lupine, and the varied lupine. This particular butterfly is a rather interesting species. The adult butterfly is very fragile, about the size of a quarter. They are weak flyers, rarely moving when winds reach over 15 mph or when temperatures drop below 55°F. The adults rarely last longer than a week, and their primary goal in this phase is to just find a mate and reproduce. The adult female butterfly is brown with some light blue stripe-ish patterns, and the adult male is light blue. Both have black wing edges, though the male’s are a bit less pronounced. The butterfly itself, with its short lifespan and beautiful wings, is only the tip of the iceberg though, as it has to go through the year-long caterpillar phase before.

They munch on their host plant lupine, but as a caterpillar, they are also easy prey for birds, rodents, and other insects. Among them, there’s a specific type of parasitic wasp that will try to lay eggs in the caterpillar, which hatch, and then consume the poor caterpillar from the inside. But the caterpillar also has protection. Native ants in the Formica genus will protect the Mission Blue against predators, while the caterpillar provides protein-rich honeydew for the ants in return, like how farmers herd and protect cattle for milk.

Every time the Mission Blue pops into my view on the internet, or anywhere, I always think back to that rodent skull I received from the owl pellet. Not only because it was the same day I first learned about the butterfly, but also because they have quite a few similarities. Like how both of them are really fragile, but are also surviving despite messy clutter, or dangerous predators. The way I view the Mission Blue is probably the way I view all endangered animals. The fact that these amazingly rare animals are still surviving out there, hanging on and not completely extinct, gives hope for our planet’s future. If we do something, if we all act upon the Earth’s future- planting more trees, helping endangered animals- we would be able to make sure that the Mission Blue, along with pandas, black rhinos, african elephants, and every other endangered animal out there- every other animal, really- won’t have to exist only in our imagination, or just as mere bones.


Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Mountain lions are creatures also known as Pumas, Cougars, Catamounts, Painters, and Panthers. Painters?! What do painters have to do with mountain lions? In the south, mountain lions are usually called painters. Crazy right? Mountain lions’ scientific name is the Puma concolor, meaning “cat of one color,” but aren’t panthers black? This, we don’t know, but I like to say that Panthers and Pumas are sunburned mountain lions. I have many experiences with mountain lions, especially because I live in San Francisco.

On a heavenly day in July, I was taking a hike with my dad, and we hiked up to the next street. I heard the birds chirping, it was a wonderful day. Then I see a big, blurry yellow blotch, like a big school bus right in front of us.

“Hey, Dad! Come over here! I think I found something!” My dad bluntly says okay as he starts walking over; I slowly nudge closer to the sign. I can gently see what the sign says: DANGER! Mountain lions! I get a little scared, but my dad said encounters rarely happen. I say, “Okay,” but I was thinking that you never know what could happen. We start walking, but I have a horrible feeling about this. We walk and walk — boring. I wanted to see a mountain lion! But we didn’t. We turned back round to go home when I saw a trail on the side.

“Hey, Dad! Can we go that way?”

“Sure,” My dad responds. I get excited, but then I notice something in the bushes. I look over and see a big tan animal. Wait. Is that a mountain lion?! It’s beautiful! So beautiful that I wanted to just hug it, but I knew that would get harmed. It is a memory that I will never forget.

I know what you’re thinking. What is a mountain lion and what does it look like? The mountain lion is native to the San Francisco Bay Area. Mountain lions are large, have short and rough fur, yellowish brown to grayish brown bodies, and pink noses. Mountain lions have one of the largest tails of all animals–, and the tail is about ⅓ of the animal’s length! The mountain lion’s mandible is short, deep, and powerfully constructed. Just like all the other cats, mountain lions are carnivores. Mountain lions are very unique and cool. I can’t wait for you to see one!

Want to see a mountain lion? I can tell you exactly where they hide. Well not exactly, but you know what I mean. Extermination efforts, hunting pressure, and habitat destruction by humans have restricted their range to relatively mountainous, unpopulated areas. They ranged from coast to coast in North America, and from southern Argentina and Chile to southeastern Alaska. If you go hiking in the woods of San Francisco, you can usually find a mountain lion. I do not recommend going very close to it because it can always attack you. The young ones stay with their mom for no longer than 26 months but usually 15 months. Their main prey throughout their range is different species of ungulates, including moose, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, and caribou in North America. So if you do have these animals by you, you can sometimes catch a mountain lion. These should get you by a mountain lion in no time! Mountain lions are in trouble and I need your help to help them live.


We turned back round to go home when I saw a trail on the side.

“Hey, Dad! Can we go that way?“

“Sure,“ My dad responds. I get excited, but then I notice something in the bushes. I look over and see a big tan animal. Wait. Is that a mountain lion?!


Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus)

I sat quietly in the backseat of my car, staring out the window. It was a calm feeling on a chilly day on an Illinois forest highway. And then, I heard it. The rushed clomping of a deer’s feet crossing the road. I can’t be sure, but that could have been a mule deer. Their large ears tell it all. Although my distant memories are probably foggy, mule deers have some really distinctive features, and it would be easy to tell between a mule deer and a generic one. For example, they have an unfortunate genetic issue, where when mule deer stags mate with white-tailed deer, the offspring has running and evading issues which make it very vulnerable to predators such as coyotes. They frequently engage in antler wrestling. It’s like a few friends going out for a beer or coffee but instead of drinking, there’s friendly fighting. It makes sense that the wrestling is friendly, because mule deer are usually calm and skittish around predators. It’s almost like my dog, who is normally cautious around others. I’d say the main difference is that my dog barks at strangers when she’s at home, and cautiousness can become aggressiveness. Mule deer normally don’t weigh much more than 95 kilograms, so they don’t have to be that careful. It’s almost as if they’re on a diet. Humans, take notes.

Mule deer normally do not feed on animal meat and regularly forage twigs and grass. They’re mostly picky eaters, only selecting the nutritious parts of forage. Sometimes, this leads to some farm crops getting eaten or damaged. On the other end, they are hunted by coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and humans. Humans also engage in deforestation, taking away their essential habitat, which in some cases results in deaths on the mule deer end. Sometimes they migrate so as to gain prosperity in terms of forage. Normally they’re far-sighted, which might make foraging a bit easier. When does and stags mate, normally the offspring takes 6-7 months to be born. The average weight for a newborn is 3.7 kilograms, similar to a human baby. It takes an additional 4-7 months for the doe to stop nursing the fawn. It’s at around 2 months that the fawn tries food other than the mother’s milk. At this point, the fawn weighs around 30 kilograms, and you could say this is comparable to adolescence in a human. All in all, it takes 10 months to 14 months from mating for the offspring to reach a point of independence. Most of the time, does and stags form mating groups in the winter and diverge in the spring. It’s like a sort of winter break or a holiday, mates coming together. Also, at the start of a year, stags tend to shed their antlers. It’s almost as if it’s an unspoken rule, a ritual.

In terms of body appearance, their fur color palette is brown, gray, slightly reddish, white and black. Additionally, they have large ears in comparison to other types of deer. Adult mule deer range from 120 to 180 centimeters in length, with the tail taking up 1/8th of that length.

To conclude, mule deers are pretty fascinating, and while you might have to go to some elevations to find them, their soft yet ethereal fur will give your brain the ultimate satisfaction. They feel so ordinary yet so novel, and I’d say they’re one of the top subjects for further research.


Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus)

In the year of 2018, my family went to Thailand. My favorite memory from there is watching a man do tricks with some cobras. This was especially amazing because those snakes were poisonous. After years of working with the snakes, the man had as little fear as a statue and was able to show the snakes respect by understanding them. In return, the cobras showed him respect as well. This partnership allowed them to perform jaw-dropping spectacles and wow the audience. I had both the emotions of fear and awe as I watched this performance.

Locally, there is only one poisonous snake in Northern California and that is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, also known as the Crotalusoreganusoreganus. There are several things about the rattlesnake that generate awe. First, there is its uncanny camouflage. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake’s back usually has dark colors with even darker splotches on them. The splotches usually have white uneven edges. The bottom-side is typically pale yellow with brown spots and the rings on the tail usually get darker as they move away from the body of the snake. Because of the dark colors and uneven lines, these colors are perfect for camouflage. Since snakes are cold-blooded, this type of snake lives in hot, dry habitats. They do this in order to avoid freezing. Since they still need water however, they do not live in deserts.

Something else that is amazing about this snake are its hunting habits. Through evolution, venom is now made behind the eye in small glands. The venom is then carried to the fangs and is then ready to be injected into the snake’s victims. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is also a pit viper. This means that they have heat sensitive pits inside their heads. In other words, the pit viper is a heat-seeking missile. It hones in on its target using special traits it’s target has and then strikes too fast for any animal or human to be expecting it.

This species could teach us many animals’ strategies to survive. Adaptation has worked so well on the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, that it has it all. Camouflage, venom, heat senses, even big group gatherings for the cold. Moreover, this species does not lay eggs and it has a rattler. Not laying eggs also known as being viviparous allows the female to protect the babies. Having a rattler needs a little bit more understanding about why it is so important. Let’s say that a human comes along. They step on a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. This injures the snake and sometimes even makes them attack the human. After the fight, the snake would be weaker, maybe from injuries or loss of energy, the reason doesn’t matter. Next, some powerful hawk that notices it could kill the snake without much of a fight. The human of course never wanted to get into the fight, they just never saw the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. Even though the rattler just sounds like a rustle, the rattler allows rattlesnakes to be bilingual. They can only say a simple phrase, but all animals can understand them and that phrase is, “Here I am, beware.”

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake even goes into some sort of hibernation. This process is called brumation, and they start the process when the weather is consistently below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike bears, they actually eat less because they don’t want the food in their system. Since they still need to hunt, the snakes are only sluggish, not sleeping. Getting up to drink and eat is regular. Even though Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes are not social, sometimes big groups gather in caves for the heat. This surprised me because I would never think of this happening. They are somehow able to find other snakes in the huge world!

Considering all the crazy features snakes have, it’s no surprise that in many cultures, the snake is feared but revered. An example of this is in China where of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs, the snake is the most mysterious and the wisest. The snake can also represent power, which can be seen in the Western Religions. When Moses’ staff


turns into a snake, people see him as powerful. Personally to me, the snake represents that even in a small package there can be immense power. This is opposite to an animal such as the lion, where they have visible physical strength. In the case of the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, it has so many amazing features that even at a smaller size than humans, it has become an apex predator in the animal kingdom.

There is a lot that we can learn from the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. One example is that rattlesnakes only use venom to bite other animals for food or defense. As an apex predator, the entire ecosystem partly relies on rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes eat rodents, insects, and even other reptiles. If the rattlesnake population in an area isn’t doing well, most other species in that same area are also not doing well. As babies, the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is preyed on by many species, but this is when they are weak. When they are adults, their most common predator is humans.

It is understandable that snakes are feared but revered in many countries all over the world. We need to protect the Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes. We must stop destroying their Winter den habitats. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is categorized as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List which is a list of all animals and their endangered rating. I hope we keep it that way in the future.

Considering all the crazy features snakes have, it's no surprise that in many cultures, the snake is feared but revered. An example of this is in China where of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs, the snake is the most mysterious and the wisest.

Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus)

The car sped down the smooth road, surrounded by an endless quantity of sequoias. My heart beat as fast as the one of a mouse, as I thought about where we were headed. We were going on a wild trip to Yosemite, and I was not prepared. I mean, there are massive grizzlies everywhere!!! But as my mom and dad reassured me, and we put some good music on, my thoughts drifted away…

“Today’s the day!” I thought to myself, on the crisp spring morning that we had scheduled a trip to the tidepools. The sun was barely rising, but we had to hurry to catch the low tide. I clumsily leaped out of my bed and changed into the outfit I had set out the night before. I had on a pretty straightforward sporty outfit - athletic shorts, sports bra, and a light sweater - plus my water shoes and a waterproof bag for my phone. Then, I had a quick bowl of rice krispies and we were out the door.

The drive to the tidepools was about an hour and a half, and since it was barely past five am, my two siblings were fast asleep for most of the drive. As the ocean breeze whistled and soft sand wrapped around my precious feet, I felt a sense of relief and comfort. Our feet pounded against the earth as we bounded to the rocks. We hopped from rock to rock, just barely glancing at the nature surrounding us. But then a flash of bright color snatched my breath away. There was this massive orange sea star hidden on the underside of a rock. I grabbed my phone and used my animal identifier app to figure out what it was. An ochre sea star. Pisaster ochraceus. I continued to read more, as this find captivated me. I took many pictures, and my face was illuminated with the blue halo from my phone as I stared endlessly into the abyss of sea star knowledge.

Soon on, I was a computer of ochre sea star information. Do you have a question about their senses? Using touch, taste, smell, sound, and pressure, these beings sense the world in a way that most of us never will - they can’t see! What do they eat? An Ochre Sea Star has a large buffet of food to choose from, including mussels, clams, snails, barnacles, and sea urchins. It will eat so much that it can’t eat for the next 48 hours! One day, my homeroom teacher even asked me to present in front of the middle school during assembly. I was instantly captivated and agreed, ‘cause if you get the chance to be a part of assembly, you know that you’re getting somewhere. This was my speech:

“Hello everyone! I’m here to tell you about an animal that brings its stomach acids out of its body to dissolve its prey! The massive appearance of the biggest ochre star compared to a paddle-spined seastar (the smallest sea star) is like comparing a mouse to an elephant. This big baby’s size is 6-14 inches or 15-36 centimeters! Now, I want you all to imagine something. Do you know pipelines that move water from place to place, using hydraulic pressure? Well, to move, this unique sea star has an entire system, and by adjusting pressure levels, it moves!” “Do you know that Ochre sea stars have two different sexes, even though they are indistinguishable externally! That’s like having a man and woman look the same, and not have a different way of doing things…” I just had to point out, during our first class of sex education. I laughed the whole way home. Later that day, when researching more about the sex of stars, I found something that would give me more nightmares than a horror movie.

Seastarwastingsyndromeisadiseasethatcausesstarstolosetheirlimbs,andperish.Thisdreadhasbeen harmingthesepoorcreaturesforalongtime,andsoon,theywillbecomeextinct.Someseastars,liketheochre star,arecriticallyendangered,andusscientistsareworkinghardonawaytosolvethisissuealongwithmany others.Now,withoutfurtherado,let’spraiseandturnourfocusto-

I stopped reading there. This devastating article broke my heart, but I knew that, no matter what, the sea stars would outlive it, for I too, am an ochre sea star in some way. My resilience and bravery to adapt, my ability to befriend, my ability to make impossible, remarkable things happen. Everyone has an ochre sea star inside of them, it just has to be let out.


I blurred back to consciousness with the calls of my parents, letting me know that we were in Yosemite, bear country, once and for all. I was nervous, and almost didn’t step out of the car, until I remembered my dream. So I reached out of my comfort zone, and became immersed in the beauty of surrounding nature. I felt a calling, seeing the ochre star for the first time, and I somehow knew it would guide me to be a better version of myself - I guess I was right. With the new knowledge I have gained, I know that I will be adventurous, curious, thoughtful, smart, beautiful, and myself - no matter what.

The sea stars would outlive it, for we all are ochre sea stars in some way. My resilience and bravery to adapt, my ability to befriend, my ability to make impossible, remarkable things happen. Everyone has an ochre sea star inside of them, it just has to be let out.

Olympic Oyster (Ostrea lurida)

When I was four years old, my family and I went to Hawaii for the summer. I remember being in the shop stands at the market, so many fascinating and colorful things in my eye line. I was surprised when my grandfather, Nagypapa, tapped me on the shoulder. I jumped and turned around. His hand held out a little jewelry case made of an oyster shell. It was clasped with a gold chain. I took it out of his hand. My eyes grew wide with the beauty of the shell, and I held it tight to my chest for the rest of the trip. Of course, I dropped the shell and dented it multiple times. It once got carried into the ocean, but my grandfather dived in at the perfect time to return the shell back to my tiny hands.

Oysters have been in the Bay Area since the 1840s. They were brought in by ships and carriages because the oysters that grew in the Bay Area died fast and weren’t usable for eating and crafting. But even the imported oysters didn’t survive in San Francisco Bay for long. We have now found that the issue is climate change. Rising air temperatures, especially in the warmer months, can be fatal to oysters exposed to reefs for hours at a time. One may ask how oysters eat because they have no mouth, tongue, or throat. Oysters are filter feeders. They take in water from their surroundings and extract particulate matter from it. They use a small filter to grab onto potential food before releasing water back into their surroundings.

Oysters close their shells when they feel threatened. It reminded me of a human, and how we try to shut ourselves off when we feel threatened. Their shell opens up, revealing a shiny inside, like a cave, or a chest, their shells are rock-hard and almost impossible to open, so there is a reward for prying open this protective creature.

Oysters are omnivores, so they eat plants. They have up to a 20-year lifespan, which is a lot more than any average animal. A cool thing about oysters is that they change their gender at least once in a lifetime. They have a plump, pear-shaped body that is whitish gray and can grow up to 13 inches. They live in shallow water in beds and reefs all around the world. Oysters are often stuck on rocks but are occasionally swept up by a large wave, separated from their family. Their shells are cracked, and they need to learn how to survive on their own. When I was thinking about this, this exact thing happens to people as well. People like me and you.

Oysters are often stepped on and thought of as just pointless rocks, but one of the most important things that they do is warm the water and create habitats for other animals that live in the ocean. Now, my oyster is seven years old; it’s collected dust and grime in some corners of my room, though I think about it from time to time. The oyster is damaged, and dented, but somehow more beautiful with all of its imperfections. It makes me think of myself, how I’ve grown from a little girl, clueless about the problems that face both humans and nature, and how much I’ve grown since I was handed that small oyster. I hope that the next time I find that oyster, after cleaning my room, which will probably be a while from now knowing my messy personality, It will remind me of when that small shell first brought a smile to my face.

My grandfather picked the perfect time to return the shell to my tiny hands.

People usually never think of slugs as noteworthy creatures. They are just blobs of slime with tentacles, right? But there is one specific type, the banana slug, that is a superhero among slugs.


Pacific Banana Slug

People usually never think of slugs as noteworthy creatures. They are just blobs of slime with tentacles, right? But there is one specific type, the banana slug, that is a superhero among slugs.

I remember a few years ago when I was hiking at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, almost to the parking lot where my family car was, when I looked down and saw that I almost stepped on a banana slug. The thing was about as long as my head, and was moving so slowly that it wouldn’t have had time to get out of the way if I stepped on it. It had a yellow and brown coat, exactly like its namesake. I remember seeing a gaping hole in its side. I also saw two peculiar-shaped black eyes on two of its four tentacles. I walked away, ready to go home. I never even thought about the amazing qualities it had.

We’ll talk about the qualities later. First, the basics. The banana slug is native to the coastal forests of the West Coast of North America, with subspecies ranging from Southern California to Alaska, where the moist environment is vital to their survival. Many subspecies live around the San Francisco Bay Area. They can be up to 9.8 inches long and breathe through their skin. Two of the tentacles have eyes like black quinoa, and the other two can smell and feel the world around them. The tentacles are also retractable like a cat’s claws to protect the valuable sensors. If a tentacle falls off, it will grow back like how a lizard’s tail will regrow. Banana slugs may be found in large concentrations, five slugs per square meter are not uncommon. Engineers at MIT tried to copy the unique way slugs and snails move by building a “robo-snail,” which they hoped would be more stable and better able to traverse rough terrain than a robot that walks like a human or moves on wheels, like the slug on that steep hiking trail.

Also, banana slug slime is very important to the creature’s survival. If any predator tries to eat a banana slug, they will feel their mouth going numb and also find the slime very unpalatable and hard to wipe off. Snakes have even been found with their mouths stuck shut by slime! However, some predators will roll the banana slug in dirt to counteract the anesthetic. Slug slime was originally thought to behave like a bowl of spaghetti—the more tangled the strands, the thicker the mucus. But researchers studying the chemistry of slug slime at the University of Washington have found that it is a highly organized polymeric material that can absorb water extremely rapidly like a sponge—up to 100 times its initial volume. Once the mechanisms and molecules of slug slime are better understood, researchers foresee numerous potential applications in materials science and bioengineering, such as pollutant traps for sewage treatment plants, effective water-based lubricants, and improved surgical implants and wound coverings. Many engineers, biologists, and even medical doctors are still studying banana slugs.

If I had picked up that poor little banana slug that I had almost crushed a few years ago, instead of walking away, I would have had a terribly hard time wiping the slug slime off, and my hand would have gone completely numb. The banana slugs have such cool things to offer. Their amazing properties are helping humans so much, but they get the mouse’s share of the credit. The public finds larger animals, like lions and tigers and bears (oh my), far more interesting. It just goes to show that even the tiniest things can change everything.


Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Around six or seven years ago. My parents decided to hike at Twin Peaks. It was a very foggy day. While they were walking, my siblings and I were jumping from place to place, climbing rocks, and picking flowers. Suddenly, my sister spotted a bright blue butterfly with little orange spots. I would later find out this was indeed the pipevine swallowtail . I had noticed a little rip in its wing. I pointed this out to my mom and dad. They looked very alarmed but went to help my sister, who had fallen. I decided to help her too. When I came back, the butterfly had flown away. I remember thinking about how strong and brave the delicate butterfly was.

The pipevine swallowtail is fierce in many different ways. For example, the pipevine swallowtail has very tough skin like metal, strong and rough. Like their host plants, the pipevine swallowtail has a poisonous acid, so when their predators take a quick taste, they will spit the butterfly right out. Their host plant, the pipevine, is endangered, which does not help this butterfly. People tear the pipevine out from their habitat to make farms, buildings, houses, and more. Also, because of deforestation, the pipevine swallowtails are losing their homes and having to move. It was so endangered, it almost went extinct until this guy, Tim Wong, saw the problem and wanted to help. He started to repopulate the pipevine swallowtail, which he had learned to do in elementary school. This is why the pipevine swallowtail is popular and spread out so far, from Arizona to the Atlantic SeaBoard, and from the Gulf Coast to Chicago. An interesting fact about swallowtails is that the ones who live around California tend to be smaller and hairier.

Even through all that, the pipevine swallowtail remains a magnificent insect. They have iridescent blue wings with vibrant orange and bright white spots. The blue is like a blue garnet. Garnet is my birthstone and as you may know, it comes in red, but, you may not know it also comes in purples, yellows, blues, pinks, greens, and browns. There are many different types, just like how the pipevine swallowtail has many different names and how they pollinate plants with colors from a sunset-yellow, purples, oranges, and pinks. They also really like bitworth vines, lilacs, dame’s rocket, the California buckworth, and viper’s bugloss. They forage in open woodlands and meadows, which are normally in warm climates.

The lifespan of a pipevine swallowtail is short. They have four stages in their lives: the egg stage, the caterpillar stage, the chrysalis, and finally the adult. In total, they live for around a month and a week to ten weeks. When they are still eggs, they are a bright orangish-red color, and when they are young butterflies they will mostly eat sprouts. Also, their size is normally around 2.75” - 4.0”. Their main enemies are birds, parasitic wasps, ladybugs, ants, and fungal diseases.

Tomorrow, I’m going to a ski race. I’ve never been to one before so I’m so excited to try it! I’m going to need to be tough just like the pipevine swallowtail. They are strong on the outside and the inside, literally. We can all take this as a lesson. You can be strong on the outside but to be truly tough, you need to feel it on the inside too.

You can be strong on the outside but to be truly tough, you need

Purple Sea Urchin

(Strongylocentrotus purpuratus)

I remember when I was 10 years old, and I had just started at my new school in a new state, with a new house and a new, blank identity. Back home in the Jersey suburbs, I was the socially awkward kid. The one who stuck out from the crowd–literally. Do you know any other 5 foot 2 4th grader? Probably not. Well, haha, now you know me. Or at least what I used to be back then. But at least I had a place. The weird kid. But when I moved to California and started my quest to the top of the hierarchy all over again, I had to start somewhere. That somewhere was the bottom. On my first day of 5th grade, the one thing I desperately needed was a map…And some help. The sound of 800 kids chattering hit my ears like a wall of sound. I had to apologize for being late to advisory because I lost my way, and I felt so flustered I wanted to cover myself in camouflage, and hide from the world, dig a deep hole and wedge myself in, where nobody could find me. Later, I would learn the proper term for a creature like that: The purple sea urchin, master of disguise. The spiky purple creatures have the ability to go into a zombie-like state without eating for many many years by controlling their metabolic rate. This ability has earned them the nickname “Zombie Urchins”. They are radially symmetrical, covered in prickly spines and tube feet, tinted a rich pinkish-purple hue. People commonly refer to them as the “porcupines of the sea”. Purple sea urchins are as round and spiky as a pincushion, which is the reason for their creative nickname. They usually eat algae that floats their way, and sometimes animal remains (slightly ew!) with their 5 spiky, self-sharpening teeth. A purple sea urchin catches food with small feet that are scattered around its shell and passes it down to its mouth as efficiently as a conveyor belt. They overpopulate the West Coast, from Mexico all the way to even Alaska. They are also found in tidepools. The sea urchin is also skilled in camouflage. It uses natural materials to cover itself and hide from UV light, and also to hide from predators. They also play a crucial role in the environment. Without purple sea urchins, algae would take over coral reefs, but sea urchins near coral reefs work to make sure that doesn’t happen. They help the environment naturally

‘’’’’/, and make sure that algae isn’t a threat to coral reefs.

But even though the sea urchin is so wondrous and fascinating, it also has a dark side. The purple sea urchin has been decimating the plentiful kelp forests along the West Coast, and divers describe them as “purple carpets” that quickly replace kelp forests. The fact that an epidemic has ravaged their main predators, sea stars, doesn’t help at all. Kelp forests were severely hit by a marine heatwave in the Pacific called “The Blob”, making them easy targets for purple sea urchins. And to top off all of that, the aggressive purple urchins are taking out their fellow red sea urchins too. They swoop in and conquer kelp forests so fast that red sea urchins can’t eat anything. The marine ecosystem is falling apart, and we need to do something about it.

But people don’t ignore these events. You may know of a special sushi called uni. Uni is essentially sea urchin meat. Before the red sea urchins got wiped out, they were the primary source of urchin meat. Now though, they are scarce. But the purple sea urchins are far from that. People have since then come up with the idea of harvesting purple sea urchins to eat. But since the urchins are so thin and measly after a lack of food (they ate all of it), they are collected in mesh bags and transported to facilities where they are fattened up and then killed to eat the creamy gonads. This method is a win-win; People get yummy food, and the overpopulated seafloor is cleared out a little. This method of removing urchins is proving to be effective.


All in all, the purple sea urchin is a fascinating animal. Yes, it is overpopulating the West Coast, but it is just following its instincts. We do too. And soon after I started school, I found my people. I made friends, and the strange new environment wasn’t so strange and scary after all. But in that moment, I remember the looming crowd of people, and to my 10-year-old self, they loomed menacingly over me, glancing down to see an itty-bitty 5th grader stumbling over her own feet. Everybody will feel like this, exposed and nervous at some point. You can’t cover yourself in rocks and shells like a sea urchin, but you can power through. And that’s what makes us special; We persevere–and make the best of it.

You can't cover yourself in rocks and shells like a sea urchin, but you can power through. And that’s what makes us special; We persevere, and make the best of it.

Pygmy Blue Butterfly

(Brephidium exilis)

I was in New York on a cold, rainy day in April of 2022 visiting my cousin for the first time. My Dad’s brother lives in NYC, and he had a baby girl, Ines. Her birthday is in April of 2020. I had never met her before, as she was born during the pandemic and we could not travel to see each other. We would Facetime, and I had seen pictures of her as she grew up over the past two years. We were trapped mostly in California during that time, and I was excited to meet her in person and see how she had changed from a baby to a little girl and was happy we were going to celebrate her second birthday together.

While we were in New York City my family and I went to the American National History Museum. We shuffled outside on a dreary, cloudy day into the big museum, and we started to explore the exhibits. We first explored the Shark special exhibit in a dark room where there were dozens of life-sized models and fossils, some of which were 33 feet long. We learned that sharks are older than dinosaurs and are more threatened than threatening. We came face to face with the megalodon with teeth as sharp as a razor, and I shuddered. I was transformed from a cool winter day to a summer escape once the doors opened at the Butterfly Conservatory, our next special exhibit. When I first stepped into the conservatory I was in complete awe. I could smell the sweet honey and vanilla-like scent of the flowers, and the humid jungle air hit me like a ton of bricks. Thousands of iridescent butterflies were fluttering all around me, and it felt as if I was walking into Narnia. Their wings were fragile like a newly spun spider’s web. Despite the heat, a butterfly abruptly landed on my bright blue mask. From what I could see, the butterfly was brown with brown spots everywhere. There was a big yellow smear along the bottom of the wing, but the outside of its wings was a bright vibrant blue like my mask. We also were able to see all the steps of the butterfly metamorphosis in the exhibit. The butterfly begins life as an egg and like a baby emerges as a caterpillar, and then undergoes a complete change in body form during development into an adult butterfly.

The Pygmy Blue is the smallest butterfly in North America with a wingspan of ½-¾ of an inch and is a quick, nervous flier, which makes it very difficult to see. They live in deserts, wastelands, and saltmarshes. The butterflies come to the SF Bay Area in March until October. They also migrate to Arkansas, Nebraska, and Oregon. We think of butterfly wings as being colorful, but many are brown on the underside. Some butterflies protect themselves through camouflage—by folding up their wings, they reveal the undersides and blend in with their surroundings. The Pygmy’s wings are copper brown, like a penny, and the large section of each wing that is closest to the body is metallic blue, reflecting the iridescent blue water and sky on a beautiful spring day. The upper portion of the wings are white, and on the underside they have small white dots that are like mirrors reflecting light. During the birth cycle of the butterfly, the females are most concerned with finding a mate and flying to a new area to search for suitable plants to lay their eggs. The Pygmy’s eggs are turban-shaped and pale green and are usually found on the upper side of the leaves of the saltbush. The eggs hatch, and they become a caterpillar whose main purpose in life is to eat food and grow bigger. Most caterpillars eat leaves of plants, but some eat other foods like flowers or fruits. The favored drink for butterflies is nectar from flowers, which is rich in sugars to give energy.

As I walked down the sidewalk toward the preschool, I saw a homeless person sleeping, bundled up in blankets. It was cold that day, and I was also bundled up in lots of clothing. I looked up and saw a sign that said “New Beginnings”, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. I walked inside the preschool and I saw Ines, my cousin, with her pink backpack, and some of her hair in a ponytail, and a pink jacket, jeans and a gray and white striped shirt with a bunny imprinted on it. Me, my sister, and my Uncle walked home with Ines. My cousin was a bit shy at first, probably because she only saw us on Facetime. As she blew out her birthday candles, I realized how much she had changed. She had grown so much from a baby to a girl who could walk and was starting to talk and express herself. She


had changed so much in two years, which I realized even more when I saw her in person. The birth of butterflies requires transformation from egg to caterpillars to butterflies, which requires patience and is full of change to then be free like a butterfly.

Butterflies, including the Pygmy Blue, have developed various defense mechanisms to avoid themselves from being eaten by predators during their life cycle. Their predators are spiders, mantis, dragonflies, toads, lizards, and birds and small mammals. Pygmy Blue butterflies protect themselves by their bright colors, their large fake eyes on their wings, and their ability to wiggle their hind legs to distract their predators from their vital body parts. Caterpillars protect themselves from predators such as ants by secreting fluid that ants eat so they don’t eat the caterpillars. The different shields they use remind me of the bright blue mask I was wearing in the Conservatory that day during the Covid pandemic - I was also protecting myself from an unwanted virus. As I was shivering in the cold weather, I thought of how the adult Pygmy butterflies cool themselves by drinking water then spurting the water through their digestive system. It reminded me of the water balloon fights we had during the pandemic to escape the heat back in California while we were trapped at our house.

As the plane was taking off from Newark airport to return home to California, I felt the butterflies in my stomach again. I thought of the grace of the butterflies transforming from crawling caterpillars to free flying butterflies. This transformative process of the butterfly breaking out of its cocoon and strengthening its wings is a difficult one that takes a lot of energy and patience. I missed Ines already and thought of her transformation from a baby to doing a magic trick with my Dad and how much she had grown and changed in two years. During our time together in NYC, I thought of all of the walks we went on, when she blew out her birthday candles, and how many times she laughed. I can’t wait to see her again. The next time I see her, she will be all grown up! Maybe, I will see her on her birthday again.

As she blew out her birthday candles, I realized how much she had changed. She had grown so much from a baby to a girl who could walk and was starting to talk and express herself.

Male red-winged blackbirds can hide their orange shoulder patches, depending on how confident they feel. For example, if they feel very confident, they would puff out the shoulder pads, but if they are scared, they will hide them. Like humans, red-winged blackbirds’ actions


Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

There’s a small orange tree outside my bedroom window that grows a lot of large, bright-colored oranges that my family and I pick from all the time. When the fruit on the trees in our backyard becomes ripe, we go outside and pick the fruit. One day, I looked out my bedroom window and noticed a nest in my orange tree. That’sodd;Idon’trememberanestbeingthere, I thought. I looked closer and saw that there were baby birds in the nest. A giant bird, probably the parent, swooped down and landed on the nest, bringing over food to who I assumed were its babies. I was amazed that there was an actual nest less than one foot from the window, which was pretty awesome. My family and I watched the birds, took some videos and pictures, and waited for the mom or dad to come back and feed the birds every day. There were three baby birds in total and two parents. But a few weeks later, the babies grew up, and they flew away.

I have been playing a board game called Wingspan. Wingspan is a game where you house birds in your ecosystem. I wondered about other birds in my area until I came across the red-winged blackbird, a blackbird with bright orange and yellow shoulder patches. Did you know that the Red-winged blackbird is a card in wingspan?

The bird has many interesting characteristics. The male blackbird has orange and white patches on the shoulder, while the female is a different story, looking like an average sparrow sometimes. Male red-winged blackbirds can hide their orange shoulder patches, depending on how confident they feel. For example, if they feel very confident, they would puff out the shoulder pads, but if they are scared, they will hide them. Like humans, red-winged blackbirds’ actions depend on how confident they feel. If a male red-winged blackbird wanted to defend its territory or attract a mate, it would lift its wings, perch high on a corn stalk so its red shoulders are visible, and sing its song, a conk-a-lee! An average red-winged blackbird has a wingspan of thirty-three centimeters and weighs from forty to seventy grams. These colorful birds have four toes on each foot and can fly up to twenty-eight miles per hour. The oldest recorded blackbird is 15 years old, found alive but injured in Michigan in 1983. The red-winged blackbird has been dubbed the bicolored blackbird after a different species, the tricolored blackbird.

Unlike most birds, these are ground foragers, meaning they scavenge on the ground or in shrubs, mostly in flocks. They can hop backward while feeding, which is called ‘double scratch.’ Red-winged blackbirds are one of the fiercest birds, spending a quarter of daylight hours protecting their territory and fearlessly taking on much larger threats, such as horses or people. If a blackbird squawks at you, you should leave because they may attack you. Lions and Blackbirds are very similar; they’re very fierce and stick in groups. Their predators include raccoons, owls, marsh wrens, American minks, black-billed magpies, and hawks.

Blackbirds will migrate in groups, sometimes up to one hundred thousand birds! They feed on insects, seeds, bark, grains, nuts, stems, and roots. They prefer saltwater marshes as their habitat and lay three to four eggs—a typical egg of a red-winged blackbird is blue-green, with purple, black, and brown markings. Redwinged blackbirds are one of the most abundant native bird species in North America. They can be found all over Mexico and the United States to the southern portion of Canada, but not in northern Canada. Now that I’ve learned more about the red-winged blackbird on one of my trips in the future, I’d like to go birdwatching and learn more about birds beyond my backyard.


Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa)

You have probably seen a lizard before, either on your hiking trip or in your backyard. However, there is a very similar animal that thrives along the pacific coast that you have likely never seen before. It’s called the Rough-skinned newt. They are tiny creatures, but they have a deadly secret. A Rough-skinned newt has enough poison to kill 25,000 mice. How can such a small animal be so poisonous? Before we answer that, let’s start with the basics of this animal.

Rough-skinned newts live in grasslands, woodlands, and forests on the Pacific coast. They have rough, granular skin. They look like a lizard with rounded snouts and four toes on each foot. They also have a yellow or orange belly, like the color of a peach. The average Rough-skinned newt is usually 6-9 inches long. The Rough-skinned newt is an amphibian, meaning they are born and breed underwater, and they spend the rest of their time on land. They begin their metamorphosis process when they become 1.2 to 2.75 inches long. During their metamorphosis process, they grow limbs, change their diet, and migrate out of the water. While they are in their larval stage, they mainly feed on vegetable material. Adult Rough-skinned newts like to eat a wide variety of soft-bodied, slow-moving prey, including crustaceans, mollusks, and worms.

One of the rough-skinned newt’s special characteristics is its rough skin, which is used for camouflage and a higher surface area for poison. If you haven’t seen a rough-skinned newt before, it might be because of its excellent disguise. During the mating season, they breed over slow-moving bodies of water, for example, ponds, and hide their eggs in vegetation, which reminds me of storing chocolate in a safe.

What fascinates me the most about the Rough-skinned newt is the poison it uses to defend itself. When the Rough-skinned newt is attacked, it curls up like a gymnast and shows its colorful belly in an action called an “unken reflex” to warn predators. However, if a predator is not scared by the bright color of the newt’s belly, which startles the predator into running away, it relies on its second line of defense, poison. Roughskinned newts produce a powerful toxin called tetrodotoxin that blocks signals between nerves and muscles, preventing an animal from breathing as if choking. If a predator bites a newt, the poison will paralyze the predator and kill it. There is only one animal that can survive eating a rough-skinned newt, which is the garter snake, which has evolved resistance to tetrodotoxin by preventing it from binding to the snake’s cells. If a human touches the skin of a newt, the poison will not have any effect until the human touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, which will have the same effect as on a regular predator. A rough-skinned newt is deadly enough to kill a child or a pet. The Rough-skinned newt is an amazing animal that shows us that something small can still have a lot of power.


Rough-skinned newts produce a powerful toxin called tetrodotoxin that blocks signals between nerves and muscles, preventing an animal from

I hope everyone realizes that every little thing can make a change…

San Francisco Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)

When I was in 3rd grade, I walked into my classroom and spotted a San Francisco Garter Snake. I thought it was alluring–the mix of turquoise, white, black and red. At that time, I didn’t know anything about snakes, but I was scared so I ran away. I thought all animals were like humans at an early age, trying to find their way around and survive. Boy was I wrong…

The scientific name for the SF Garter Snake is Thamnophissirtalistetrataenia. The SF Garter Snake lives in the San Francisco-San Mateo County line, which is near Daly City. It requires water and land to live. Normally, it lives in giant swamps or marshes so it has all of its everyday needs. During cold months, it moves underground or under rocks. Mating occurs from February to May but mostly during the first warm days in March. The snake was also endangered in 1967 because of habitat loss and loss of prey. It also needs to live in a sustainable environment where there is plenty of prey to catch. This is one of the most important reasons they are going extinct. When in danger, this snake runs for its life, trying to find a safe place to hide. Usually this safe haven will be in water, mainly for the reason that predatory land animals can’t go into water. This snake can live up to two years, but they can live for ten years in captivity. Only 2% of females can live to five years out in the wild. This snake can be 18-53 centimeters long, but is normally under 36 centimeters. This snake possesses neurotoxic venom, but the venom is only dangerous to smaller prey and not dangerous to humans. The mild venom is in their saliva.

The San Francisco Garter Snake makes no sound, so its prey only hears nature, not expecting this phenomenal creature. This hunting strategy makes it so that it is hard for the prey to know if they are endangered. This snake slithers, moving as smoothly as a ninja robbing a bank. This species has been mistaken many times for other red garter snakes. The only thing that differentiates this snake is the color.

The strategy to keep this snake away relates to how vampires hate garlic. All you need is to sprinkle sulfur or naphthalene. This creature is one of the most beautiful and unique snakes in North America. This snake blends in with nature, the sheer beauty charming anyone that sees this unique creature. The scales are smooth and slick as a block of butter. There has been said to be a plan of making this species unendangered by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. I know how lucky I am to have food and shelter, considering some species can barely survive and are forced to have harsher environments. I feel like this also applies to life. There are people who barely get enough food a day. I should feel grateful and never waste anything that other people need.

I think that this snake is one of the most interesting and beautiful snakes in the world, and I hope it never goes extinct. I realize how innocent animals are and the dangerous environments that humans put in them. Now, I understand just how thankful I should be. Never give up hope, even if it seems impossible. I hope everyone realizes that every little thing can make a change, anything can be possible if you set your mind to it.


Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus)

A Snowy Plover sits in the ocean breeze, opposite the view of the far away trees. Since 1993, the U.S. Pacific coast snowy plover population has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are about 2,500 left in the world. Because of their coast-based habitat they face many threats such as coastal development, off-road vehicles, pretation cats, dogs, and other animals, wild and domestic. The Snowy plover has horizontal posture and a black bill that sets them apart from other plovers. In 2011, they were officially considered separate from the kentish plover. They have shorter legs and wings and are smaller and are about 6 inches long, but they are closely related to the piping plover, and have a habit of hunching down, as if in depression. They are visual foragers and have acute vision, making them all the better to sit in the sand like a bird watcher, but they do not call out to their friends. They can hunt both day and night. They dart around very quickly looking for prey, and eat mollusks, tiny fish, crustaceans, insects, and marine worms.

The mature ones have crowns, kinda like immature children showing their favor. They follow their prey’s footprints. They have a proud horizontal posture. They’re like a forest. Small but strong like a tree but the singing on the beach is as strong as the sea. A white tree in a forest of green - denying the others company. Snowy plovers have a pale sandy gray color.

As I said earlier, mature breeding adults have a stripe like a crown. They also have a dark stripe on the side of their neck. One more thing, they have a short neck and dark ear patch. Snowy plovers breed in the summer and fall. In some areas, both parents tend to the young. In other areas, females may depart in less than 6 days! The females may leave the males to raise young. A female may then find another mate soon after and raise another set of young. Incubation is by both parents for 26-32 days. Males usually incubate at night, while it’s all females for most of the day. They have 3, sometimes 2, rarely 4 eggs. The eggs are pale, buff, and dotted with black. They can fly at the age of 28-32 days. Young leave the nest a few hours after hatching because they can feed themselves.

They have a call that sometimes sounds slightly like a frog. At other times it sounds like they are rolling their R’s. Despite their interesting calls, their population trend is decreasing. If you consider the interesting characteristics and behavioral traits of Snowy plovers you can see that we should all do our part to spread awareness about this creature.


In some areas, both parents tend to the young. In other areas, females may depart in less than 6 days! The females may leave the males to raise young. A female may then find another mate soon after and raise another set of young.


Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis)

I never knew what they were until I read a novel about them. After that, sea otters were my favorite animal. There are two kinds of otters, sea otters and river otters. Sea otters are endangered, so I want to do my best to help them. Sea otters are unique animals. They can live for up to 23 years. I was surprised when I found out that sea otters were in the weasel family! Their fur is water-repellent, so they can stay underwater without getting cold. The record for the longest dive for a sea otter is just under 8 minutes! An average sea otter can dive underwater for a minute or two. They usually only go underwater to look for food. They eat clams and mussels, but they can also eat sea urchins, crabs, squid, octopuses, and fish. When they find a clam, crab, or mussel, they will use a rock to start smashing their meal; Sea otters only use one particular rock every time. They are the first animals ever to use ‘tools’! They spend 9 to 12 hours foraging every day, and an additional 5 hours grooming. They’ve adapted to their home by growing lots of fur–every square inch of their skin has a million strands! Their fur is their only insulation from the cold, so keeping it clean is one of the only ways to survive in the freezing Arctic.

Another thing that they have to do to stay alive is consume 25% of their body weight in food each day. That is about 75 burgers for a kid a day! They are one of the top species in the animal kingdom food chain, but bald eagles, brown bears, wolves, white sharks, and killer whales all prey on them. Their most common predator is the Orca/killer whale. One of the ways sea otters can avoid these predators is to stay in groups. If they stay together, the orcas will be too afraid to attack. Once a sea otter even jumped on a boat in order to not be eaten! Sea otters are really good at using what they have at hand. Whenever they move to somewhere new, they have to learn how to adapt to the new environment.

When I learned about this amazing animal, I wanted to help them because people have been killing them for their fur. If everyone on the earth wants their fur, then no sea otters would be left! There used to be about 150,000 and 300,000 sea otters, but now their population is only around 3,000 individuals. One way that I can help them is to walk or bike more than drive. The oil coming from our cars and motorboats harms sea otters and other marine species. You can also help by carpooling more and wearing coats and cuddling stuffies that are not made from animal fur. I hope that this can make people change their minds and start helping marine life more. I think there is something we can all learn from sea otters: ‘make the most of what you have’.


Splendid Iridescent Seaweed (Mazzaella splendens)

It was a rainy Saturday, and I knew that for the fourth time, I wouldn’t be able to go to my tennis lessons. It had been forever since I played tennis. Normally, I would be happy to have more time at home, but on that specific day, I felt disappointed. I chomped down my oatmeal and started waiting around as usual. I get my Zelda: Breath of the Wild book off of the shelf and start reading, hoping to find something cool. But, I don’t find anything special. Suddenly, I realize that the book I was looking for was next to me, a book about splendid iridescent seaweed.

Their blades are as smooth as skin, the splendid iridescent seaweed can actually bend light! It is surprising that even though they are like prisms, they are actually red! I read the book, and as I read, I wondered what would happen if I saw a splendid iridescent seaweed. I see my parents taking me to a beach to go snorkeling! It was the first time I’m actually seeing a splendid iridescent seaweed up close. The light on its red blades shines at me. I notice that they are flatter than I realized. Also, they grew up to 3 feet large, only a foot shorter than me! It was astonishing to actually see the size of the seaweed in front of me. As fish and other sea creatures flow by it, it sways, slowly, carefully. I won’t forget the beauty of the blues, reds, and greens of the ocean.

During lunch, I am kind of reluctant to add the seaweed to my rice, but I know it isn’t splendid iridescent seaweed. I always eat seaweed with my rice, mostly because rice doesn’t taste that good to me. My little sister, Larissa, came out of bed at around 8:50 again, so she was all groggy during lunch. This didn’t make my attitude better.

I keep imagining after lunch, trying not to get too frustrated. After changing back into our regular clothes, we tried our best to make a life size sand castle, but it didn’t turn out that great. Overall, it was wonderful! We stayed in a hotel nearby for the night, and went to the beach again the next day. I noticed that there were way more seaweed than last time, mostly in the shallow waters. I might not have noticed them before. This isn’t the greatest amount of seaweed though. Since 2014, the splendid iridescent seaweed population has decreased by 90%. Knowing this, I felt a little queasy. I looked around at how the creatures were interacting. I think I saw them helping each other, but I don’t know if that was just my imagination. The fish weaved about the coral and seaweed, pausing now and then to change direction. The seaweed shone bright blue, its skin red as blood, standing out from the other ocean creatures. After the whole trip, I was hooked, and from then on, I couldn’t forget the splendid iridescent seaweed. The book gave me a whole new perspective on seaweed. I wanted so much for what I just imagined to happen. This is where I learned that I was like seaweed. Maybe one day I will join the splendid iridescent seaweed.


The light on its red blades shines at me. I notice that they are flatter than I realized. Also, they grew up to 3 feet large, only a foot shorter than me! It was astonishing to actually see the size of the seaweed in front of me.

Sticky Monkey flowers are not just beautiful and in abundance, but are also helpful for humans.

Sticky Monkey Flower (Mimulus longiflorus)

Sometimes, as I’m driving to school, I see green, blue, and yellow shrubs. But at certain times of the year, I see orange flowers popping up everywhere, even in the most unlikely places, like cracks in the concrete or rocky hillsides. These are just some of the amazing traits of the sticky monkey flower. We in California have experienced a lot of rain recently, and most things are green, but I’m starting to see more colorful flowers emerging. The orange ones are next!

The Sticky Monkey Flower, also known as Mimuluslongiflorus, can be identified because its flowers look like a laughing monkey’s face. They have six petals, and a lipped corolla, which means that the flower curves near the tip, it is a bisexual flower that has both male and female parts. They are a particular variety of monkey flower that comes in an orange color, and the underside of its dark green leaves, as if they were a human armpit, produce a sticky resin that gives it its name.

Sticky Monkey flowers are not just beautiful and in abundance, but are also helpful for humans. The Pomo tribe from Northern California used Sticky Monkey flowers to make lovely decorative objects to cure sore, bloodshot eyes. The Coast Miwok people also used the leaves to cure sores and burns and the roots to cure fever, dysentery, diarrhea, and curtail hemorrhages.

Do you have a garden? If you do, you probably have noticed those annoying little holes in your tomato plants. Those are probably little larvae eating your leaves, and most other plants have that problem too! But there’s a solution: the sticky monkey flower’s leaves produce and excrete a phenolic resin that deters butterfly larvae and stunts their growth.

Even in the darkest and most challenging times, things always come through. The Sticky Monkey flower can grow even in some of the worst conditions, like little water, low nutrient-filled soil, and shaded environments. Just like the Sticky Monkey flower, there will be times in our lives when the circumstances are rough and we have to persevere and navigate our difficulties. Let’s learn from the sticky monkey flower -- They always find a way to persevere and stick through it!


Western Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

Rain. Lots of rain. Rain overflowing the gutters and rain flooding the highways, filling the grassy moors and turning the dry, crinkly, yellow grass green. It’s the season of moisture, of mud and wetness. The season where rain dominates everything and creates vast puddles in the highways and streets. The small lavender-blue flowers, Sisyrinchium bellum, are blooming. The season of the western blue-eyed grass is here. When I go outside of my house, I am greeted by the small drops of energy, allowing the little flowers to grow and thrive. They pour down on my head, plopping onto my hair and soaking into it. I imagine the flowers, feeling the same moist feeling as me. The purple blue color of the blue-eyed grass is so calming, just like the trickle of the small drops of energy. I am usually drawn to purple and indigo, and like Blue-Eyed Grass, it is a calming color to me, and it’s very vibrant and cool at the same time.

Blue-eyed grass has small, sword-shaped, grassy, blue-green tufted leaves, which are connected to a stem that varies from 3 to 24 inches tall. They are often shorter than 24 inches though. Each flower is usually 2 inches wide and has a bright yellow stem, shining in the sunlight. The flower varies in color from blue, indigo, or purple, hence its name, western blue-eyed grass. They grow in clumps, usually in California and Oregon. Blue-eyed grass has no smell. It blooms from January through July. It’s dormant through the summer, but tolerates droughts and dryness very well if you put it in a warm climate. This fact is very interesting to me: Occasionally, there are some white flowers in the clumps of the little purple and blue ones. The clumps of blue-eyed grass grow in sand or clay, on grassy slopes, in redwood forests, on coastal bluffs, and grasslands.

Blue-eyed grass is a very interesting plant. At first, you might just think of it as a little purple flower, but there are actually a lot of fascinating facts about it. It is a perennial herb, which means that it comes back every year and usually gets bigger and bigger. They can tolerate a lot of different kinds of weather and dryness. They can also live to altitudes up to 8000 feet high and continue to thrive. How do they thrive? Well, each individual flower only lasts one day, but they reproduce in large numbers. It self-sows very quickly, which means it drops a lot of seeds before it dies, or uses division of ribosomes to self-sow. They are super easy to reseed and have very abundant seeds.

I associate this pretty plant with many things. The smooth, purple-blue petals are calming like the rain on a cloudy day. The raindrops smoothly sploosh into puddles, making a satisfying sound of the plop of raindrops. The puddles shine like the petals on the flower, and they pool up on streets, driveways, and sidewalks like the dewdrops on the greenish leaves. The yellow speck in the middle of the puddles is like the sparkle of the sun setting after a great rain storm.

If there’s anything the western blue-eyed grass can teach us, it’s persistence when things are not going your way. It teaches us this because it can tolerate a lot of different weather conditions and drynesses. This plant is very persistent, tolerating lots of different weather conditions. It tolerates both droughts and seaside flooding. Blue-eyed grass is usually a moist and rainy flower, but the fact that it tolerates droughts well shows just how much western blue-eyed grass can adapt to its surroundings. It can also endure lots of other things, too. Things like seaside conditions, people and deer stepping on it, and temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 degrees Celsius). This is how it represents endurance and teaches us how to be resilient.

A few months ago, I finished competing for level four gymnastics. I am on a competitive team at San Mateo Gymnastics. Gymnastics is my favorite sport, and it is my passion. I devote a lot of time and hard work to it. I train 12 hours a week, each of my practices being four hours long. In those four hours, we go over every event: floor, uneven bars, vault, and balance beam. On top of that, we have the hardest part, conditioning. Conditioning is when


we do exercises that build our strength and endurance. It includes exercises like leg lifts, hollow holds, handstand holds, and many other hard exercises. But sometimes the events are hard too. Sometimes, my coaches yell at me, sometimes I get really tired, and sometimes I get mad at myself for not completing a skill right. All these things are very hard, and sometimes it just makes me want to quit. But I persisted. I persisted just like the western blue-eyed grass. And the day I need that persistence most is the biggest competition, Norcal State Championships. All of the teams in Norcal compete together in this meet. I was very nervous. I worried that what I had done was not enough. I worried that I hadn’t been resilient enough for this meet.

Blue-eyed grass is very persistent and tolerant. It teaches us perseverance when things aren’t going your way. And that was what I needed the most for this meet. I persisted through the challenges of the season, of learning new and hard skills, of rips and sweat. And that was what got me here, on the podium, on the very top platform. I watched as the medal was slung onto my neck, glimmering like the bright speck of light in the very middle of the western blue-eyed grass.

I watched as the medal was slung onto my neck, glimmering like the bright speck of light in the very middle of the western blue-eyed grass.

The Western Bluebird also was harmed during the fire season. The fires burned right through their breeding grounds

forcing them to move farther from the coast.


Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)

In the start of fourth grade, I tried out for a basketball team. I loved the sport, but back then I wasn’t very good at it. I also had many other hobbies like music. I was good at music but I have a terrible voice. I read about a Greek hero who had such a good voice that when he got bullied, he just sang and they went away. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a voice like that, I sometimes wonder If anyone has that good of a voice. That would be like a superpower. The western bluebird can do it, well kinda. I’m not like them, but as I think about it, there are more similarities, like how they migrate with other species of birds. I’m very social too. The western bluebird is also blue, which is a color that I like. Also they are mostly vegetarian and I am too.

The Western Bluebird is one of four birds that migrate with others: the Mountain Bluebirds, American Robins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Even though the Western Bluebird population has been held steady for 56 years, they have been struggling with some habitat loss. Some of their habitat loss is due to people taking dead trees from the forest in an effort to clean up. However the biggest player in the Bluebirds’ habitat loss is from the growth of trees as a result of the suppression of natural fires. Regarding nesting, males usually arrive at the nesting site before the females to protect the ground from other bluebirds. The Western Bluebird has a unique way of defending the nesting grounds, by singing. Even though the singing is effective, European Starlings take over some of the nest sites the bluebirds have claimed.

Remember the wildfires in 2020? It was the year we had the day where the sky turned orange and 4.3 million acres were burned. Well, we were not the only ones affected. Many animals also lost their habitats, food and even lives. The Western Bluebird also was harmed during the fire season. The fires burned right through their breeding grounds and migration path, forcing them to move farther from the coast. This helps them migrate. It took longer for them to move up the coast. Which changed the time they breed and many of them didn’t, resulting in loss of population. As of this year they have regained the population they lost.

The western bluebird is very colorful, but when they are born, their color is like a stone wall. Most of the colors they are when they are chicks are pinks and grays. They feed like normal birds, but like falcons, they sit on low branches and swoop down to catch small insects and animals. I bet their food tastes like plastic but that’s just me. They are small birds but they have small nests never going above 50 feet. They are quick which means they can nest up to three times a season. I hope you learned more about the Western Bluebird.


Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

When you look at lizards, they don’t seem like much, but Western fence lizards are like superheroes, but they live and do things alone. I remember a time in second grade when I was like this. I was a tiny lizard, new to a better environment. I liked to stay alone. I liked lizards and magnets. They were magnets with their blue necks and bellies. They attracted others with their abilities. Yet they hid and repelled danger that lurked near. Like how I feared many things. They had brown skin to hide from predators. They hide in the shadows of the world. I wish I had these features. They sometimes reminded me to be thankful for what I have. Their population is very high and they live almost everywhere with sun. Sometimes you just need a little reminder to realize what you do have. The Western Fence Lizards reminded me about what I have. They are found in California, Eastern, and Western Oregon, so I always knew a spot where there were lizards to find and watch. They often stand on fences, rocks, and sunny areas. Every day, the same lizard showed up in my backyard. And there was a stump where he rested.

The areas in which these lizards live are not very specific, but where they live can be pretty shocking, as people would think they live in the desert, but they often live in gardens and are found near water. They feed off the bugs lurking on the plants or in the dirt. They will defend their gardens by doing pushups toward other lizards. This reveals their blue bellies and says to back off. This also often shows superiority and that they are ready to fight. Their blue bellies are not only used for defense but also used to attract female Western Fence Lizards to mate. After one year of mating, they will breed and be able to lay eggs. Female lizards will put the eggs inside a damp hole with soil. This process happens from April to July. Then after laying eggs during August, they hatch. When a Western Fence Lizard hatches, they are about one inch long. The average grown lizard is twenty-one centimeters. Scientists have studied these lizards and noticed that the bite force is a lot more than the force they need for eating and hunting. Scientists named the lizard Sceloporus Occidentalis. Sceloporus is typically in different spiny lizard’s scientific names.

When you look at these Western Fence Lizards they don’t look like much, but they work in secret. Like other animals, they help balance the ecosystem by eating worms, bugs, and spiders. They also help in a way you wouldn’t expect. Ticks sometimes may carry diseases such as Lyme disease, which can cause fevers, headaches, or rashes. Fortunately, when a tick tries to infect a western fence lizard and tries to suck its blood, something happens. Their blood is very special, and scientists have discovered that it cleanses the ticks of their Lyme disease and borrelia bacteria. Because of the Western Fence Lizards, the percentage of Lyme disease in California has gone down enormously due to the lizard’s help, but in other places, Lyme disease is higher. These lizards have helped California by curing Lyme disease; but how can we help the Western fence lizards and return the favor?


Western fence lizards can hide or run with their brown scales and quick feet, but they don’t have offensive and defensive abilities. These abilities of the western fence lizard make them low on the food chain. This makes them prey for birds and other animals. Often, a way for them to avoid this is to hide in places where they can be seen. This gives us a way to help and protect the western fence lizards. We can build hiding places! Western fence lizards often like to sit on big smooth rocks or boulders with a warm, sunny touch radiating off. They also like hiding under the boulders. We can use stones or other rock-like objects to make good hiding places for them! We can also help them by making good damp spots of soil, as that is where they like to dig holes and lay their eggs. The things the lizards can do for us are very important and helpful, as they have saved many lives, so we should always try to return the favor.

The things the lizards can do for us are very important and helpful, as they have saved many lives, so we should always try to return the favor.

Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

There will always be times where things have to change for the better. I sometimes feel like I can adapt without having a problem, but it’s not always like that. When we’re born into the world, we’re all vulnerable to all the things around us, like a one- or two-year-old western screech owl. It seems to me that the western screech owl and I have some similar traits. My parents and theirs could say that I grew so quickly that I barely spent any time with them. I guess I’m not that short, but not that tall as the others in kindergarten and first grade. Since I’m also Asian, I can get mixed up with my friends and others who I don’t know about. When others ask me if I’m Chinese, I just say: “Oh, I’m Chinese and Vietnamese because of my parents’ background.” The one thing that can set me off sometimes is people saying: “Oh, are you Chinese? You look like you are.” (I have a feeling that other ethnicities have this same problem with people guessing where their parents came from.) I’m also one of the slowest runners in the world; I came last when I did a mile tracker. Even though I also have a picky eater in my family, I can eat almost anything (besides spicy foods.) And I’m even resourceful and efficient when using materials.

In wooded canyons, desert mesquites, farm groves, and shade trees, you would find the very common western screech owl. This species has expanded east to Texas, north to southeast Alaska and southern Canada, and south in the Baja peninsula in Mexico. They also usually live in low elevation rivers and streams, shedding oak woodlands, streamside groves, deserts, suburban parks, and gardens. Western screech owls are actually strongly connected with areas with fan palms and oak woodlands in California. They can be found with their very close relative, the Eastern Screech Owl.

Western screech owls usually have more than one mate at a time, but some choose just to have more than one. Before the breeding season, males defend an area with several nests. Pairs begin to form in January and February, when males present food to the female and start performing displays of bowing, bill snapping, and hopping to attract the female. Western screech owls will stay in tree cavities that were left by other species. They don’t add any new material they find to their nest. These owls may stay in any tree in their area, but they would rather have a Cottonwood tree as their home.

When it’s females’ time to lay eggs, they lay 2 to 7 eggs per nesting attempt and three to five on average. Eggs are laid in March and April; the eggs come out white and oval shaped. They could hatch in 26 to 34 days. Before they start breeding, let’s find out how the Megascops kennicottii grows up to become a great bird. Their development starts when they are one week old with their eyes open and their egg tooth not there. When they’re one to two weeks old, they’re still like a baby; they cry in response to disturbance. At three weeks old, the bird is a human teenager; they’ll be more aggressive, and they’ll start swaying their wings. At five weeks old– like my oldest brother– remain close with the family before they have to go and be independent in the world. Most of them will start breeding at one year old. If intruders come, then the adults attack or try to distract them, like people try to distract the healers during freeze tag. Does this remind you of your parents trying to protect you?

Looks are important when telling the difference between you and your twin, so what does the western screech owl look like? Well, the bird is not much taller than a binocular with feathered ear tufts. Adults are 19-25.5 centimeters tall and can weigh 170.1 grams on average. Male wingspans are 168.4 millimeters and 174.5 millimeters. Both of the genders are alike with general feather appearances. They can be brown or gray-brown in the northwest and gray in the southern deserts. Some groups in the coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest are more varied in color, often displaying a reddish-brown. The face is pale with a dark border, with their underparts streaked and marked.


They have yellow eyes and dark bills. Their feet and toes are feathered in northern groups, but the ones in southern deserts are bristled. Using their colored feathered appearance, they can effectively blend in with the tree they’re on. Even though they have the word “screech” in their name, they don’t screech. They make a fast series of hollow toots.

Together with all the animals in its area, the western screech owl eats small mammals and large insects. Their diet varies between regions. They eat insects, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, mice, voles, pocket gophers, small birds, lizards, snakes, frogs and fish. Since they have a low aspect ratio, it makes them wait for their prey to show up to them like Doordash. With all the variety in their diet, they are one of the items on the menu for the spotted owls, great horned owls, barred owls, racoons, gopher snakes, crows, and jays.

The Megascops kennicottii has an economic importance for humans because they have suburban habitats where the owls are fine with people visiting their nest, which helps researchers learn more about this bird we don’t know much about.

Like humans, the western screech owl can adapt. They have features that can help them camouflage, hunt for food, or distinguish them between their close relative, the Eastern Screech owl. That’s how the western screech owl became a very common bird–It uses its features and its behavior towards other animals to either help protect their young, to hunt, and to survive. We all have our experiences from life, some relate and connect with this bird. The western screech owl is an amazing, resilient animal that deserves to live in this world.

There will always be times where things have to change for the better. We can always feel like we can adapt without having a problem but it’s not always like that sometimes. When we’re all born into the world, we’re all

The best way to distinguish Nuthatches is their strange habit of feeding upside down…The nuthatch is the only bird who displays this unique behavior.


White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Is it a lizard? Is it a spider? No, It’s a Nuthatch. Amazingly, It can climb trees horizontally with nothing but its feet, except it doesn’t have anything on its talons that helps it stick to walls. I remember being at my friend’s birthday party when I was six or seven years old. It was a hot day in June, and we were throwing water balloons and squirting each other with water guns. I remember how the kids who were better at this kept wetting us. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t dodge them. Halfway through, a few kids like me and I were soaked. We decided to team up and go behind the house, throwing water balloons at whoever came near. This is much like how the White-breasted Nuthatches team up with other tiny birds and forage for food. Another connection I have to the Nuthatch is that it never migrates, which I thought was a bit like me after I joined Nueva but did not move.

White-breasted Nuthatches are solitary and diurnal birds, (which means they are active in the morning like humans. It is the opposite of nocturnal). They live all over the United States of America except for some parts near the far north and south. They can be on woodland edges in certain areas with large trees and shrubs and plenty of space, like parks. Nuthatches are also pollinators of seeds which is their primary ecological role. They get rid of animals and bugs that people consider pests like insects and rodents, so humans generally like them. The best way to distinguish Nuthatches is their strange habit of feeding upside down, unlike most animals who eat right side up. The nuthatch is the only bird who displays this unique behavior. They do this mainly to find food in the tree trunk that other birds, like woodpeckers, miss when they go up the trunk right-side up. Their curious ability reminds me of a sort of bug or lizard creeping up walls and branches upside down or a human or monkey hanging from a branch.

In terms of physical appearance, they are gray and blue on the back, with a white face and breast. They have a black or gray head like the hood of a jacket. The lower belly and under the tail are chestnut colored. They also have gray and black wings and tails, a sharp black beak, and black feet. They also make a sharp and loud yank-yank-yank sound.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a solitary bird, but in times of need it teams up with other smaller birds to forage during winter. Just like the White-breasted Nuthatch, I also sometimes team up with other people like me, whether that is when I am working on an assignment with other students, or like in the instance of the water balloon fight when I was little, and teaming up with other kids who were getting hit by other older kids. The White-breasted Nuthatch is an amazing bird capable of amazing things, and if you look at them closely, they may surprise you.



The 5th grade students would like to thank writer Aimee Nezhukumatathil and illustrator Fumi Nakamura for inspiring these pieces.

We are also grateful to Nueva Middle School Head Karen Tiegel and Assistant Head Kelly Ward for their enthusiastic support of this project.

A huge thank you to 6th grade students Kylie Elenz-Martin, Mia Turakhia, and Lucia van Gool for their incredible graphic design of this volume, with credit to Nueva Digital Communications Manager LiAnn Yim for her design of the original volume last year. Without their talents, this book would not look the way it does.

We appreciate the editing support provided by Assistant Director of Communications Rachel Freeman.

Lastly, we want to thank all of our families for providing us opportunities to find wonder in the natural world.